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What Are Coastal Nuclear Power Plants Doing to Address Climate Threats?

Sun, 09/09/2018 - 15:53

The outer defensive wall of what is expected to be the world’s most expensive nuclear power station is taking shape on the shoreline of the choppy gray waters of the Bristol Channel in western England.

By the time the US$25 billion Hinkley Point C nuclear station is finished, possibly in 2028, the concrete seawall will be 12.5 meters (41 feet) high, 900 meters (3,000 feet) long and durable enough, the UK regulator and French engineers say, to withstand the strongest storm surge, the greatest tsunami and the highest sea-level rise.

But will it? Independent nuclear consultant Pete Roche, a former adviser to the UK government and Greenpeace, points out that the tidal range along this stretch of coast is one of the highest in the world, and that erosion is heavy. Indeed, observers reported serious flooding on the site in 1981 when an earlier nuclear power station had to be shut down for a week following a spring tide and a storm surge. However well built, says Roche, the new seawall does not adequately take into account sea-level rise due to climate change.

“The wall is strong, but the plans were drawn up in 2012, before the increasing volume of melting of the Greenland ice cap was properly understood and when most experts thought there was no net melting in the Antarctic,” he says. “Now estimates of sea level rise in the next 50 years have gone up from less than 30 centimeters to more than a meter, well within the operating lifespan of Hinkley Point C — let alone in 100 years time when the reactors are finally decommissioned or the even longer period when spent nuclear fuel is likely to be stored on site.”

In fact, research by Ensia suggests that at least 100 US, European and Asian nuclear power stations built just a few meters above sea level could be threatened by serious flooding caused by accelerating sea-level rise and more frequent storm surges.

Some efforts are underway to prepare for increased flooding risk in the future. But a number of scientific papers published in 2018 suggest that climate change will impact coastal nuclear plants earlier and harder than the industry, governments or regulatory bodies have expected, and that the safety standards set by national nuclear regulators and the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are out of date and take insufficient account of the effects of climate change on nuclear power.

The Problem With Flooding

Flooding can be catastrophic to a nuclear power plant because it can knock out its electrical systems, disabling its cooling mechanisms and leading to overheating and possible meltdown and a dangerous release of radioactivity. Flooding at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan as a result of the March 2011 tsunami caused severe damage to several of the plant’s reactors and only narrowly avoided a catastrophic release of radioactivity that could have forced the evacuation of 50 million people.

The interactive map above from Carbon Brief shows the location of nuclear power plants around the world. According to maps prepared by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), around one in four of the world’s 460 working commercial nuclear reactors are situated on coastlines. Many were built only 10–20 meters (30–70 feet) above sea level at a time when climate change was barely considered a threat.

In the US, where nine nuclear plants are within 2 miles (3 kilometers) of the ocean and four reactors have been identified by Stanford academics as vulnerable to storm surges and sea-level rise, flooding is common, says David Lochbaum, a former nuclear engineer and director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Lochbaum says over 20 flooding incidents have been recorded at US nuclear plants since the early 1980s. “The most likely [cause of flooding] is the increasing frequency of extreme events,” he says.

“There was no consideration of climate change when most US plants were built,” says Natalie Kopytko, a University of Leeds researcher who has studied nuclear power plant adaptations to climate change. “They used conservative models of historical reference. Also, they were largely built at a calm period, when there were not many major storms.”

“While an accident has never yet happened due solely to sea-level rise and storms, the flooding experienced at Fukushima resembles what could occur in the future from sea-level rise,” says Kopytko.

Considering Climate Change

IAEA’s current global safety standards were published in 2011. These state that operators should only “take into account” the 18- to 59-centimeter (7- to 23-inch) sea-level rise projected by 2100 in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s fourth assessment report, published in 2007.

But those safety standards don’t factor in the most recent assessment of the IPCC, published in 2013–14. This scientific consensus report has seas rising 26 centimeters (10 inches) to 1 meter (39 inches) by 2100, depending on how far temperature continue to rise and the speed at which the polar ice caps melt.

A 1-meter (39-inch) increase, combined with high tides and a storm surge, significantly increases the risk of coasts and nuclear stations being swamped, says Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

“Nuclear stations are on the front line of climate change impacts both figuratively and quite literally,” Mann says. “We are likely profoundly underestimating climate change risk and damages in coastal areas.”

A recent study from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center expects the mean average rise to be a minimum of 65 centimeters (26 inches) by 2100.

“This 65-centimeter [rise] is almost certainly a conservative estimate,” says NASA lead author Steve Nerem, a professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Our [study] assumes that sea level continues to change in the future as it has over the last 25 years. Given the large changes we are seeing in the ice sheets today, that’s not likely.”

A Matter of Timing

Sea-level rise, averaging 3 millimeters (0.1 inches) a year worldwide — but more or less in some places depending on topography and geography — is regarded by the two global nuclear trade bodies as a future, rather than a present risk.

“The IPCC says sea-level rise is not expected to kick in for some time. It’s a very long timeline,” says WANO spokesperson Tim Jeffery.

Most reactors, says Jonathan Cobb of the World Nuclear Association, will have been long decommissioned by the time any significant sea-level rise takes place. “The industry has been taking climate change impacts into account and taking action,” Cobb says. “This has happened both before and after the Fukushima accident.”

Flooding already is becoming much more frequent along the US coastline. However, flooding already is becoming much more frequent along the US coastline. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly all of 27 regularly measured coastal sites have experienced a significant increase in flooding since the 1950s, with the rate accelerating in many locations along the East and Gulf Coasts where many reactors are situated.

The most comprehensive research yet conducted also shows sea-level rises are accelerating as ice caps melt. Such is the speed of ice melt observed since 2007 that even the 2013 IPCC estimates of sea-level rise are thought to be outdated.

“There has been a steep increase in ice losses from Antarctica during the past decade, and the continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years. This has to be a concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities,” says joint lead author Andrew Shepherd, professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds and principal scientific advisor to the European Space Agency.

Sea-level rise was not considered when the first British and US nuclear stations were built in the 1960s. In the UK, analysis by the government’s floods and coastal erosion team found in 2012 that 12 of the country’s 19 nuclear plants would be at risk of erosion or coastal flooding by the 2080s without more protection. Those at Bradwell, Hinkley Point, Hartlepool, Sizewell, Dungeness and Oldbury were considered “high risk.”

Threats From Storms

On top of sea-level rise, the added impact of flooding from storm surges must be considered as well, scientists say. Since 1970, the magnitude and frequency of extreme sea levels (ESLs, a factor of mean sea level, tide and storm-induced increases), which can cause catastrophic flooding, have increased throughout the world, according to the Global Extreme Sea Level Analysis project. New satellite studies by the U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, and other leading scientific institutions all show mean sea level rising and magnifying the frequency and severity of ESLs.

The destructive power of the typhoons that regularly wreak havoc across China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines has intensified by 12 to 15 percent in the past 40 years with the proportion of category 4 and 5 storms doubling or tripling. Similarly, many of the most severe recorded Atlantic hurricane seasons have taken place since 2003. And new research suggests that every 1.8 °F (1 °C) increase in global average temperatures could lead, via increased sea level and more severe storms, to a two- to sevenfold increase in the risk of surges that are the magnitude of those caused by Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and other US southern coastal cities in 2005.

Some individual US plants are highly vulnerable, says Kopytko. Using the global average of an annual 3-millimeter (0.1-inch) sea-level rise and taking into account natural subsidence and the latest storm data and surge levels, she calculated in 2015 that several US coastal plants could be inundated by storm surges. These included the St. Lucie and Turkey Point stations in Florida.

Her research, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, supports a 2012 Stanford University study that showed that many coastal nuclear plants are more vulnerable to inundation than was Fukushima Daiichi, including the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants in New Jersey, the Millstone station in Connecticut, and the Seabrook reactors in New Hampshire.

While no nuclear power plant has been in imminent danger of a meltdown because of a storm surge, there have been many close calls. Three US nuclear power reactors were temporarily shut down because of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and a fourth, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, was put on alert when water levels rose dramatically, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The closest any US station may have come to a storm-related disaster was in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida’s Turkey Point plant. Wind gusts of 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour) and a 16-foot (4.9-meter) surge did only limited damage, but if the sea levels had been as high as are now projected, it could have led to a major disaster, according to Lochbaum.

“Hurricane Andrew is historic because this is the first time that a hurricane significantly affected a commercial nuclear power plant,” wrote the NRC in a 1993 review of how Turkey Point fared during the emergency. None of the essential safety features was compromised during the storm, and the nuclear units, which had been shut down hours before the hurricane arrived, remained in a stable condition.

In 2006, if Typhoon Saomai — one of the strongest storms to hit China in 50 years, with 3.76-meter (12-foot) storm surges and 7-meter (23-foot) waves that caused 240 deaths and sank 952 ships — had landed two hours later on the coast it would have coincided with a spring tide and would almost certainly have inundated the reactors at Qinshan nuclear plant, says researcher Liu Defu of the Ocean University of China at Qingdao.

Reassess and Improve

The IAEA advised the 31 countries that generate commercial nuclear power to reassess their safety after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Within days of the 2011 earthquake, China suspended approvals for new plant construction and temporarily stopped work pending tests at plants under construction.

Stress tests on reactors demanded by the IAEA and nuclear regulators after Fukushima forced the world’s nuclear operators to reassess and improve their emergency control measures, including those related to flooding. One aging British station at Dungeness, for instance, was shut down for two months in 2013 while extra flood protection measures were set in to place in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Since the Fukushima incident, all coastal nuclear plants have installed more powerful pumps, upgraded power supplies, and installed waterproof doors and moveable flood barriers.Since the Fukushima incident, all coastal nuclear plants have installed more powerful pumps, upgraded power supplies, and installed waterproof doors and moveable flood barriers, says the World Nuclear Association’s Cobb.

“In response to the accident [at Fukushima], reviews took place at reactors around the world, including checks of flood defenses and robustness of back-up power supplies — the so-called stress tests,” he says.

In the US, the NRC ordered operators to tighten their safety plans after Fukushima and Hurricane Sandy. New back-up equipment to handle flooding was installed, substations and generating stations were shored up, new batteries installed and access roads strengthened, says NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell.

“All US coastal nuclear facilities are built to withstand the worst-case storm scenario,” Burnell says. “Every US reactor site has completed its flooding hazard re-analysis. Forty of 49 sites have completed required focused evaluations of local intense precipitation and the plants’ available margin to safely deal with the updated hazard. These include for sea-level rise and related effects such as storm surge.”

However, few regulatory authorities around the world appear to have specifically asked operators to increase their defenses against climate-change-related dangers.

Steps have been taken to lessen vulnerability to flooding at nuclear plants, but problems remain,” says UCS’s Lochbaum. “More portable power supplies, to give people more chance to respond to flooding have been installed. But pumps have been found to be inadequate. People spent a lot of money on new equipment after Fukushima, but it’s not always working.”

“The plant operators understand the problems of sea-level rise and extreme events,” he adds. “They look at Fukushima and take note. They have billions of dollars in assets and they don’t want to lose them. But if the regulator doesn’t require a more robust structure then it’s up to the operator, and they have shallow pockets.”

A Look to the Future

According to the World Nuclear Association, some 50 nuclear power plants are now under construction, with roughly another 150 planned. Many of the world’s new nuclear plants are being built on the coasts of Asian countries, which face floods, sea-level rise and typhoons. At least 15 of China’s 39 reactors in operation, and many of the plants it has under construction, are on the coast.

According to an IAEA spokesman, Jeffrey Donovan, the agency’s Department of Nuclear Energy hopes to publish later this year a study on how nuclear power and other energy facilities can adapt to climate change, including rising sea levels.

“Changes are happening faster than expected,” says Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at Oxford University’s department of physics and lead author of the upcoming IPCC 1.5 °C special report. “Standards must take climate change into account.” View Ensia homepage

The post What Are Coastal Nuclear Power Plants Doing to Address Climate Threats? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

A Power More Supreme Than Any Judge

Sun, 09/09/2018 - 15:50

The first day of Senate hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh began with raucous disruptions from protesters and denunciations from Democratic committee members. This expressed the deep fear and anger that people feel across the country over the court’s hard-right direction with Kavanaugh’s potential addition.

These protests are crucial, but, like the August 26 day of action to protest Kavanaugh, they’re seen by organizers mainly as a last-ditch publicity effort to shame senators before the Court is lost to the right for a generation.

What’s needed to stop Kavanaugh and the right — either before his confirmation or after it — are strong movements for abortion rights and civil liberties that can shift the political climate in the U.S.

But that requires more people on the left to break with the liberal mythology that sees the courts as purely legal bodies insulated from popular pressure.

From day one of the Trump era, the left has faced urgent questions about the role of the judicial branch in both resisting and upholding the administration’s attacks on the rights and freedoms of working class and oppressed people.

With their vows to use legal challenges to reverse White House attacks, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — with its post-election battle cry, “See you in court” — quickly emerged as leaders of the liberal section of the anti-Trump resistance.

But over the past two years, the Supreme Court has more often than not affirmed Trump’s policies against unions, Muslims and immigrants, and the Court will move even further to the right if Kavanaugh is confirmed.

As the ineffectiveness of a strategy of resistance through litigation by liberal nonprofits has become apparent — to say nothing of the tired but still popular refrain of urging Senators to “ask tough questions” during confirmation hearings — it’s urgent that we understand that the courts, like other branches of government, are political bodies that respond to the presence or absence of class struggle and social movements.

The right to have an abortion and the right of workers to form a union — both of which could be on the chopping block under a Court with Kavanaugh on it — were originally won thanks to the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the militant labor struggles of the late 1930s.

* * *

The importance of social movements is generally common sense on the left, but there is a curious exception when it comes to the courts, where many progressives and even socialists instinctively look to purely legal strategies and organizations.

For example, after Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination Democracy Now! hosted a discussion featuring the heads of many liberal nonprofits — the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and Lambda Legal — but no activists involved in grassroots organizing. The resulting conversation was predictably legalistic.

NWLC CEO Fatima Graves made the important point that, given Trump’s promises to appoint justices who will overturn abortion rights, Kavanaugh shouldn’t be allowed to dodge tough questions by simply claiming to “respect precedent” with regard to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that recognized the right to an abortion.

But the solution put forward was to ask really tough questions. Graves called for “deeper probing into whether or not [nominees] really believe that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided, which we already know that Judge Kavanaugh has criticized in the past.”

ACLU Legal Director David Cole correctly pointed out that the Court’s legitimacy requires it to respond to popular sentiment, and that therefore “the answer has to be politics.” But he defined “real politics” as voting for Democrats in the midterm elections.

Cole and the other guests didn’t mention the three Democrtic senators who voted to confirm Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch — or Democrats like Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate Tim Kaine, who refuses to commit to voting against Kavanaugh in the name of “respecting the process,” despite his massive unpopularity among Democratic voters.

The Democrats’ commitment to politics as usual and bipartisan norms has hampered opposition to Trump since his election.

For all their angry rhetoric about Republicans refusing to hold hearings for Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, Democrats will ultimately play ball with Kavanaugh and follow procedure, hoping to get some prime-time sound bites along the way.

We absolutely should pressure politicians to vote against Kavanaugh, and not just “ask tough questions,” as socialists are doing with Republican Sen. Susan Collins in Maine.

But we also understand that politicians’ point-scoring isn’t the foundation for a genuine resistance. Instead, our efforts to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation must be one part of a broader, sustained effort to build movements that fight the right everywhere, whether it’s the streets, the workplace, Congress or the courts.

The widespread opposition to Kavanaugh needs to find expression in places beyond opinion polls, so that our anger and resistance becomes a stronger calculation in the courts’ decisions.

* * *

It’s a fundamental myth that this country is based on a set of laws.

“Society is not founded upon the law; this is a legal fiction,” Karl Marx once wrote. “On the contrary, the law must be founded upon society, it must express the common interests and needs of society — as distinct from the caprice of the individuals — which arise from the material mode of production prevailing at the given time.”

In her book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander — former director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project — masterfully parses through court decisions and legislation to illustrate the blatantly contradictory ways that the changing U.S. legal system has been deployed to maintain the oppression and exploitation of Black people.

But by the same token, workers and oppressed people are also capable of bending the law to their needs.

By the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, for example, the women’s liberation movement was in full swing, holding large national demonstrations and hundreds of local speak-outs in the early 1970s.

It was winning, too. California’s Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a state law decriminalizing abortion in 1967. By the early 1970s, over 20 states had passed similar or stronger legislation.

Anti-choice President Richard Nixon had appointed four justices to the Supreme Court before it decided Roe in 1973, but the women’s movement had shifted consciousness on abortion so greatly that one of those justices wrote the Roe decision, and two of them joined it!

* * *

When the courts face even stronger social pressures, they can shift even more quickly.

That was the case in the years 1936-37, when an explosive strike wave forced a reactionary Supreme Court to reverse itself after years of striking down the “New Deal” policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and instead uphold some of the most far-reaching policies of economic distribution in U.S. history.

During Roosevelt’s first term, the Supreme Court struck down many of his policies as violations of freedom of contract (on the logic, for example, that a minimum wage law would prevent workers from “agreeing” to be paid below that by bosses) and the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, under which the federal government can only regulate “interstate commerce,” not economic activity within a single state, which included many large steel and auto manufacturing plants.

But then in 1937, the Court upheld the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which legally protected workers’ right to organize.

What changed?

After the NLRA was passed in 1935, employers refused to obey it, expecting that it would be struck down like the other New Deal policies. Rather than rely on the courts, workers took matters into their own hands.

In February 1936, Goodyear Tire fired over 100 workers who staged a sit-down strike to stop layoffs and wage reductions at its plant in Akron, Ohio. Thousands struck in solidarity, rebuffing a court injunction and hundreds of police. By the end of March, the fired workers were reinstated and the union won numerous concessions, such as control over working hours.

In the wave of sit-down strikes over the next two years, the working class, especially in manufacturing plants, overwhelmed the bosses. In 1937 alone, nearly half a million workers participated in a sit-down.

In one the greatest labor conflicts in US history, thousands of workers at the General Motors plants in Flint, Michigan, staged a sit-down strike beginning in December 1936. It ended in victory two months later.

One primary demand was that GM stop violating the NLRA and recognize their union. GM at first refused to negotiate, condemning the workers for “striking at the very heart of the right of possession of private property” by occupying the plants.

The workers argued that the sit-down was necessary to defend their right to organize under the NLRA, refused to follow court injunctions that ignored this reality, and battled police who tried to evict them.

* * *

Did the NRLA protect the workers’ right to organize? Every court which ruled on this said the NLRA could not protect manufacturing workers because they did not participate in “interstate commerce.” The judicial branch persisted in its reactionary course despite the clear popular mandate for the New Deal, expressed in Roosevelt’s smashing re-election victory in 1936, just before the Flint strike.

But the sit-down strikes were a terrifying display — to the ruling class — of workers’ power.

A month after the GM victory, 100,000 workers rallied in Detroit to defend sit-down strikes and protest police evictions. Detroit Federation of Labor president Frank Martel thundered to the crowd, “From this time on, the constitutional rights of this community are going to be respected in the City Hall, the police station and the courts, or we’ll turn them wrong side up!”

In the three weeks following the rally, Detroit police stopped trying to evict workers and failed miserably in the one exception.

This was the context in which the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the NLRA in April 1937. First, the justices upheld the NLRA as applying to interstate transportation and communication businesses — this was squarely within the Commerce Clause.

Second, and shockingly to many observers, they upheld the law’s application to the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., which employed 22,000 workers in manufacturing plants that had previously been seen as outside the scope of the Commerce Clause. The Court’s decision makes it clear how the strike wave had affected its legal reasoning:

When industries organize themselves on a national scale, making their relation to interstate commerce the dominant factor in their activities, how can it be maintained that their industrial labor relations constitute a forbidden field into which Congress may not enter when it is necessary to protect interstate commerce from the paralyzing consequences of industrial war?

* * *

Sadly, this important history seems to be forgotten, even by many on the left.

Todd Tucker’s article “In Defense of Court-Packing,” published in June at Jacobin, for example, completely leaves out the sit-down strikes in his explanation for the Supreme Court’s historic 1937 ruling.

Instead, Tucker argues that the justices were driven by Roosevelt’s threat to “pack the Court” through legislation allowing him to appoint more liberal justices who would uphold his policies.

Roosevelt’s court-packing gambit likely did matter, as did his landslide re-election, but the president only felt confident in attempting it because of the primary threat facing the Supreme Court — and the entire ruling class — of a working-class upheaval.

Tucker’s historical argument leaves out the workers’ role in their own victory, and his conclusion about how to fight the right wing judiciary is similarly wanting.

Reflecting on the court-packing threat’s relevance to today, he argues that “with union density near an all-time low and climate catastrophe on the horizon, future lawmakers will need tools even more robust than what FDR was able to get through.”

It’s true that these are dire times and a Supreme Court with Brett Kavanaugh represents a long-term and severe threat to working people.

But rather than depending on the bureaucratic maneuvers by “future lawmakers” to hopefully protect our rights, we should be talking about how to support and expand the teachers’ strikes, protests against police brutality and abortion clinic defenses that are protecting those rights today.

The Supreme Court is a structurally undemocratic institution that gives tremendous power to nine unelected and unaccountable people.

But to paraphrase the radical historian Howard Zinn, what matters most is not who is sitting on the Supreme Court, but who is “sitting in” and who is marching outside the Supreme Court, pushing for change.

The post A Power More Supreme Than Any Judge appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

To Stop the Next Financial Crisis, We Need Public Ownership of Banks—Now

Sun, 09/09/2018 - 15:44

In mid-September, a secret party is scheduled to take place in London. The participants will be hundreds of alumni from the defunct global investment bank Lehman Brothers. The occasion? The 10-year anniversary of the bank’s collapse in the midst of the Great Financial Crisis.

For many Americans, the sight of those very same bankers walking out into the streets of New York City in 2008, with cardboard boxes containing their belongings and shocked looks on their faces, was the first sign that something was truly wrong.

But the subsequent publicly funded rescue of America’s giant financial corporations and the “1 percent” demonstrated how unable and unwilling the nation’s political leadership was to address that wrong by fundamentally reshaping the industry responsible for the crisis in the first place. A decade later, we are still experiencing the political, economic and social ramifications of that failure.

There will be another financial crisis. That much is certain. Only when and how destructive it will be is up for serious debate. The financial industry is more consolidated that it was in 2007—dominated by banks still too big to fail. Bank lobbyists and their congressional allies have systematically undermined the weak regulatory reforms put in place after the crisis, demonstrating again that the tremendous political and economic power these financial institutions wield makes strong regulatory and institutional reforms (such as “breaking up the banks”) improbable, if not impossible.

These realities make it likely that when the next crisis hits, the public will once again be called upon to step in and bail out Wall Street. We need to start seriously preparing an alternative response. One option is to push for legislation that would require a public ownership stake, with full voting rights, in any financial institution that has to be bailed out due to its own fraudulent or speculative activities.

Public ownership of banks is not as crazy as it may sound. It has been the default political response to financial crises around the world for decades—including in the United States 10 years ago when the government took controlling ownership positions in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Citigroup, and GMAC, and provided capital injections to over 700 banks.

Almost all commentators who supported these bailouts and short-term nationalizations emphatically rejected long-term public ownership. Such offhand judgments, however, deliberately ignore the extensive, and often highly successful, experience with public banking both in the United States and around the world.

Across Europe, more than 200 public and semi-public banks account for roughly a fifth of all bank assets. In Germany, the Sparkassen, a network of around 400 publicly owned municipal savings banks, “[came] through the crisis with barely a scratch,” according to the Economist, unlike some of the country’s larger private banks. The nearly 100-year-old Bank of North Dakota, which has around $7 billion in assets and a loan portfolio of $4.9 billion, is widely credited with helping the state get through the 2008 crisis with the lowest foreclosure and credit card default rates in the country, and with no bank failures for more than a decade. The bank made loans while private banks were freezing credit, all while continuing to contribute revenue to the state’s budget.

Before the financial crisis, neoliberal economics and public policy dismissed publicly owned banks as a relic of the past, the prevailing wisdom being that they were inherently less efficient than private banks. However, the available research does not universally support that “wisdom.” For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in a 2014 summary of available research of publicly owned German banks, concluded that “savings banks appear to be at least as efficient as commercial banks.” Similarly, researchers in the United Kingdom found in 2010 that “the notion that governments [can’t] run banks effectively” was “not well founded” and “if anything, government ownership of banks has, on average, been associated with higher growth rates.”

Moreover, the financial crisis has made it exceedingly difficult for even the staunchest of neoliberals to argue that privately owned banks are more efficient when their activities nearly brought down the entire capitalist global economy, required massive government bailouts, and caused tremendous human suffering.

Structured appropriately, the mere threat of public ownership could serve as a powerful disincentive to financial corporation owners and managers engaging in risky, speculative, or fraudulent business practices. If such public takeovers actually occur, the new entities could be restructured to focus on social benefit and broad-based economic prosperity—for instance, financing renewable energy and a green transition, converting businesses to worker ownership, or rebuilding crumbling local infrastructure. They could be made more transparent and democratically accountable. And they could help reverse increasing wealth inequality by keeping executive pay and compensation in check.

Moreover, public ownership of major Wall Street banks would be a valuable complement to the burgeoning movement for local and state public banks across the country, and for an overall more decentralized, localized financial system. In the same way that the Bank of North Dakota supports local community banks, large publicly owned banks could partner with those local banks to support a wide array of services. For those who ultimately want a much more decentralized financial system, such a plan does not preclude ultimately breaking up the banks. In fact, it is almost a prerequisite. In a crisis situation, with banks on the verge of failing, simply breaking them up is not an option. First, they must be saved, which would necessitate either a bailout or public ownership.

Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that a solid majority of Americans across the political spectrum detest bank bailouts and that, in fact, they would rather support some form of public ownership. During the next financial collapse, that sentiment would likely intensify—and could be harnessed for systemic change if we’re ready with a developed, viable and vetted plan based on a coherent vision.

The next crisis will be the Left’s opportunity to demand a new financial system—and we must develop that vision today in order to be able to fight for it tomorrow. The future of banking is far too important to be left to the bankers.

The post To Stop the Next Financial Crisis, We Need Public Ownership of Banks—Now appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

#RiseForClimate Actions Demand Elected Leaders Commit to Fossil-Free Future

Sun, 09/09/2018 - 15:31

Building on actions that kicked off earlier this week, activists on Saturday hosted hundreds of #RiseForClimate demonstrations across all seven continents, drawing massive crowds “to demand our local leaders commit to building a fossil-free world that puts people and justice before profits.”

As of this writing there were more than 900 actions in 95 countries, according to the searchable database that enables those interested to locate protests in their area.

The main event was the Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice march in San Francisco, California, which brought together some 30,000 people and is being hailed as the West Coast’s largest climate march ever.

San Francisco right now. This is a huge march (and it's just one of nearly 1,000 worldwide).

It turns out there are a whole lot of people—a majority, even!—who think our elected leaders should be doing more to fight the climate crisis.

RT if you're with us. #RiseforClimate

— 350 dot org (@350) September 8, 2018

The San Francisco march began “with a moment of silence solidarity with those at the frontlines of the climate crisis, and who have already suffered from its impacts,” according to, but then took on a more energized tone as participants marched and sang, “The people gonna rise like the water, we gonna calm this crisis down. I hear the voice of my great granddaughter, singing keep it in the ground!”

"The people gonna rise like the water, we gonna calm this crisis down. I hear the voice of my great granddaughter, singing #keepitintheground!"


— 350 dot org (@350) September 8, 2018

“Nothing marks a defining moment like thousands of people from every corner of the globe moving in unity and asking with one voice all governments to go 100 percent renewable energy,” noted Wael Hmaidan, executive director of Climate Action Network International.

“The only acceptable response by leaders,” Hmaidan said, “would be higher ambition and stronger commitments for an energy transformation that will eradicate poverty, created jobs and secured health, and prosperity in their countries.”

Capturing the determined spirit of the actions, Paul Getsos, national director of Peoples Climate Movement, added, “We won’t stop until we’ve won a 100 percent clean and renewable energy economy that protects our planet, livelihoods, and democracy.”

From Paris, France to Africa, Australia, and Antarctica, participants and supporters shared photos and videos of the actions with the hashtag #RiseForClimate:

So they're #RisingforClimate in the Antarctic–hello Concordia Station! #flickr

— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) September 8, 2018

After a successful Climate Summit Yesterday in Abuja Nigeria to #RiseForClimate Today we rolled out on the street @350Africa @350 @ninteretse @GlenTyler @Rukiya_Khamis

— David Mike Terungwa (@miketerungwa) September 8, 2018

Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash said Thursday that the youth movement “is transforming young people’s outrage at witnessing a lifetime of inaction on climate change into grassroots political power and making clear to our leaders: take bold action to stop this crisis, our generation demands it, and will not settle for anything less.”

The #RiseForClimate events come ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit that California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, will host in San Francisco next week. Brown is under pressure from constituents, local activists, other elected leaders in his state, and now, protesters around the world, to live up to his stated commitment to climate action by implementing bold policies that the global crisis requires.

The post #RiseForClimate Actions Demand Elected Leaders Commit to Fossil-Free Future appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

US Funding of Ugandan Military Aids in Citizens’ Repression

Sun, 09/09/2018 - 14:03

On August 13, Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was attacked by an angry mob of Ugandan citizens who back the political opposition. Protesters surrounded President Museveni’s motorcade, pelting the vehicles with stones. One of the vehicles had its rear window broken.

Numerous political rallies by Museveni’s party and the opposition had been scheduled that day ahead of a parliamentary election in which the independent candidate Kassiano Wadri, while in detention, would win in Arua, Uganda – the third consecutive parliamentary election loss for Museveni’s party.

Museveni has responded brutally, as he has repeatedly during his 32-year tenure as president. That day, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu — the popular singer known as “Bobi Wine,” who also serves in the parliament — was arrested. After a music career of more than 15 years, Ssentamu has emerged as the most formidable political opposition against Museveni. Numerous disturbances have broken out around the country. Yasin Kawuma, Ssentamu’s driver, was killed.

On August 23, after not being seen or heard from for 10 days, Ssentamu was arraigned on charges of treason in a military court for allegedly possessing fire arms in his hotel room despite the fact that he is a civilian. Many were alarmed at his appearance, bearing physical signs of torture while he has been detained.

However, Ssentamu’s treatment is not an anomaly. Museveni has repressed his opposition on many occasions, all with the financial assistance of the US.

The US Ignores Human Rights Abuses of Its Allies

President Museveni has benefited extensively from US military support, most notably $444 million last year. Museveni’s record on human rights is clear in its abusive extent, including documented cases of torture and arbitrary detention of opposition leaders and their supporters. The Museveni government has repeatedly denied due process, imposed severe restrictions on press freedom and has been connected to numerous corruption scandals. But none of these circumstances has affected its relationship with the US.

Museveni is among the US’s most reliable allies in Africa, never hesitating to send Ugandan troops on behalf of US interests to influence the outcomes of regional conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Kenya, where election-related violence broke out in 2007. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Museveni plays a role akin to the head of a brokerage firm for rebels, rebellions and peace missions.

His role has extended to the Middle East, where he sent Ugandans to work as security guards for US forces in Iraq. He also recently announced he will be sending 8,000 troops to fight alongside troops of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in Yemen.

As part of this relationship, many troops in Uganda have been trained by the US military, including using sophisticated communications equipment, night-vision goggles and small surveillance drones – all from US defense contractors. Ugandan troops deployed to Somalia travel in mine-resistant vehicles that once ferried US soldiers around Afghanistan. Ugandan choppers engaged in operations against warlord Joseph Kony, are powered by fuel paid for by the US.

As disturbances have multiplied and become more volatile in the aftermath of Ssentamu’s arrest, the US embassy in Uganda recently issued travel warnings to any US citizens planning trips to Uganda, cautioning them to not get caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, sanctions or cuts in military aid would seem unlikely, given the record of Museveni’s abuses and violations of human rights and how long they have not been acknowledged by the US.

The US consistently ignores the human rights violations and excesses of dictators whose militaries are backed with US funds. In 2014, a Human Rights Watch report documented incidents of sexual abuse by Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia, and this information did not bring any disciplinary action from Washington.

Regrettably, Museveni is not the exception in Africa. Many African despots appear to prefer heeding their Washington providers over their citizens, and whenever Washington has taken any action against their misdeeds, they have responded positively. For example, in 2014, when the US cut a small portion of its annual aid package and cancelled military exercises with Uganda after it enacted a homophobic law, Museveni responded swiftly and revoked the legislation.

While the US seldom imposes consequences on the Museveni government for its human rights abuses, Ugandan citizens could campaign for more accountability.

Ugandans Pressuring Governments at Home and Abroad

The recent plight of Ssentamu has received commendable support not only from Ugandans at home who continue to protest in the streets and demand his release, but also from Ugandan migrants in the US and Europe. Demonstrations have been organized in Boston, Washington, Toronto, London and other cities where Ugandan immigrants are centered. Recently, scores of music celebrities – including Chris Martin, Brian Eno, Chrissie Hynde, Damon Albarn, Peter Gabriel, Adam Clayton and Femi Kuti – signed an open letter demanding Ssentamu’s immediate release.

At a recent Boston demonstration, Ugandan migrants expressed criticism not just for President Museveni, but also the US in the context of conscience and concerns about hypocrisy. Many demonstrators are quick to point out that they are not “anti-American,” however. But they are still deeply unsettled about why governments in the US and Europe are consistently willing to support dictators in their home countries, especially when human rights abuses and crimes are plainly evident.

In Boston, one demonstrator voiced his support for fellow Ugandans at home to resist and reject Museveni not just on the streets, but also in their homes and places of work. He suggested creative forms of protest, such as hampering and preventing the military aides from emptying the mobile commode the president uses when he travels. He said that they should ship his waste along with the country’s oil to the US and Europe in exchange for more military hardware. US readers might see this as an absurd gesture, but many Ugandans, at home and abroad, are past the point of even the smallest bit of patience after more than 30 years of a heartless dictatorship.

Ugandan migrants are caught in a dilemma they find increasingly difficult to resolve with ease or peace of mind. Many, including those with extensive education and professional training, reluctantly left their homeland to find economic opportunity in a nation they respect and admire. Now, they worry about being rejected by their host country, as US President Donald Trump has said he prefers to end migrants coming from “shithole countries” like Uganda.

In 2018, the US asylum process has become even more difficult for refugees coming from Uganda and other countries deemed “friendly” to US interests. Well before Trump assumed office, most Ugandan migrants have had to wait on average of four to five months just for interviews, and many cases can take two years or longer. It doesn’t take a leap of comprehension to see why Ugandan migrants are frustrated to the point of anger, trying to understand why the US continues military funding for countries that subvert the basic foundations of human rights and dignity.

But Ugandan demonstrations, even in Washington, capture barely any attention from policy makers or the media. The audience for these protests is primarily African. It seems the only way to attract meaningful attention is to secure paid lobbyists. That option is off the table because migrants are working the “3-D” jobs (dirty, demanding and dangerous) at wages that might pay $12 an hour, if they are lucky. Further, many US taxpayers are unaware of just how much money goes to sustain dictators who barely care one whit about justice for their own people, politically or economically.

What could the frustrated people of Africa do to convince taxpayers and voters in the US to halt military funding that has become the lifeline for African dictators?

As they define strategies and tactics, African opposition parties must understand that independent sovereignty, especially in the economy, is extremely difficult to attain. Even if all of their country’s citizens supported their cause, it could never go anywhere without the blessings and goodwill of the US or Europe.

Political opposition movements must understand they must not only confront their country’s dictators, but also the full might of a long-running tradition of US military support and funding. Opposition political leaders would do well to counter the dictator’s representatives in Washington and London with their lobbyists, who can demonstrate that besides standing for human rights and democracy, they, too, are capable of representing US and European interests reasonably and responsibly. This should remove uncertainties about replacing long-serving dictators such as Museveni without upsetting the political and diplomatic balance.

To some, these suggestions may sound outlandish, but in the absence of evidence of improvements, the current realities demand more creative responses for overcoming the policy effects that have done little more than enable self-aggrandized dictators who have done nothing to stabilize the economic or political climates in their countries.

The post US Funding of Ugandan Military Aids in Citizens’ Repression appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Role of Christians in the Struggle for Justice in Palestine

Sun, 09/09/2018 - 13:46

The occupation of Palestine is often erroneously portrayed as a conflict between the Jewish and Muslim faiths. This narrative obscures the fact that Zionism is a settler-colonialist movement inspired by 19th century European anti-Semitism, which was shunned by many Jews in the past and continues to be shunned today. What’s more, instead of addressing the ongoing issues of inequality, injustice and apartheid within a rational, political realm (thus making these issues resolvable), it resorts to an ahistorical portrayal of an age-old and violent, irrational conflict. Finally, it ignores a sizable and influential Christian Palestinian population that is part-and-parcel to Palestinian history, heritage and culture.

Sami Awad is a Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem. He is the executive director of Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian nonprofit organization focused on empowering communities and promoting social justice, the arts, nonviolent resistance, compassion and love. In this interview, Awad discusses the role of Christian theology and nonviolence in the struggle for Palestinian justice.

Yoav Litvin: As a Christian who works out of Bethlehem, how do you interface with Christian Zionists who visit your ancient and holy city?

Sami Awad: Most Christians, whether Zionists or not, rarely meet and interact with the local Palestinian population and particularly the Palestinian Christian population. In fact, most are discouraged from doing so by their group leaders or Israeli guides who claim Palestinians are “dangerous.”

Christian Zionist pilgrims are dogmatically set in their fundamentalist views that the modern state of Israel is a biblical manifestation that must be accepted as an integral part of Christian faith, and a crucial step toward the end-of-times prophecy. Christian Zionists expect Palestinians (Christians or otherwise) to fully accept the Jewish state not as a political entity – a nation-state – but as a Godly construct that cannot be debated. Our rejections to inherently oppressive Israeli policies are immediately perceived by these pilgrims as anti-Semitic and anti-biblical. Further, some accuse us of promoting replacement theology (a doctrine that was historically used by some, mostly Christian Europeans, to justify violence against Jews). They defend Israel by undermining legitimate Palestinian rights to freedom and liberty.

Sami Awad.Sami Awad.Global Oneness Project

How do you view Christian Zionist conceptions about Palestine and the rights of Palestinian people, Christian and Muslim, versus those of Jews?

Christian Zionists reject Palestinian rights and claims to the land, erasing our deep-rooted, historic and ancestral presence here. In concert with the Christian Zionist belief in an end-of-days prophecy that demands full support of Israel as a Jewish state, there is growing xenophobia among their followers.

Nowadays, Christian Zionism presents Islam as an evil/Satanic religion, demonizing its followers, and Israel as a defensive, Godly force on the front lines. Many Christian Zionists attack or ridicule Christian Palestinians such as myself for simply having relations with Muslims who are an integral part of our Palestinian national/cultural community. This xenophobia scapegoats all Muslims as radical, extreme and militant (e.g. groups like ISIS). They claim that we must condemn, reject and fight our Muslim Palestinian brothers and sisters and collude with our oppressors, Zionists — not as a means of attaining human rights, but for the salvation of our souls.

Christian Zionists ignorantly support Israel. That said, the more “liberal” Christian Zionists can be open to criticizing Israel…. However, their critique and activism rarely transcend finger-wagging at Israel for using too much force. Christian Zionists certainly refrain from demanding an end to the occupation and/or full and equal rights to Palestinians.

Was Jesus Christ a dark-skinned Palestinian? How do the notions of race and white supremacy play into the Zionist narrative and where do you attempt to challenge these notions?

Nowadays, as a dark-skinned Palestinian, Jesus Christ would have been treated very harshly and rejected for numerous reasons. He would be discriminated against for the color of his skin, undermined for a lack of capitalist money-making agenda, ridiculed and defamed for the people he associates with, and persecuted for his criticism and attempts to stand up and resist the system of control and fear.

Christian Zionists claim that we must condemn, reject and fight our Muslim Palestinian brothers and sisters and collude with our oppressors, Zionists — not as a means of attaining human rights, but for the salvation of our souls.

Colonialist-based ideologies have reshaped theological and religious understandings of the world. This revisionist trend has manipulated theology to justify ideologies that promote racism, oppression, manipulation of resources and discrimination against others.

The notion of a unity between Christians and Jews captured by the term “Judeo-Christian” is one such example. It conveys a strongly rooted connection between Christians and Jews; a common biblical foundation of faith – same God, prophets, etc. As such, Islam is perceived as an outsider and a threat. This “Judeo-Christian identity” is purely Western, mid-20th century, capitalist and consumer-based, and mostly a white-supremacist construct.

The conception of a “Judeo-Christian” identity is grounded in a European/US white Evangelical Christian alliance with European Ashkenazi Jews. It is a construct that privileges white people at the expense of others, promotes racism and discrimination, including of members of Christian and Jewish faiths who do not fit its specific mold.

I aim to challenge this ahistorical conception with the purpose of promoting equality and justice and a true return to the core of our faiths.

What would Jesus Christ do today in Palestine/Israel? What sort of struggle for justice would Jesus support? Please address the notions of violent versus nonviolent struggles.

I feel that if Jesus were here today, he would firmly (though nonviolently) reject the modern constructs of religious-political-economic-ideological systems of oppression and marginalization of others, exactly as he did some 2,000 years ago. The beauty of the teachings of Jesus Christ is that, in addition to being a reformer, he believed in transforming humanity and driving it toward its fullest potential; i.e. he did not want to simply fix the system or make it more tolerant, but revolutionize it. His nonviolent resistance would include healing work of both oppressed and oppressor groups.

True justice is not defined as revenge or retaliation, but a holistic means to address violence through accountability, repentance and forgiveness for the atrocities that have been committed and the pursuit of a future that is based on equality, rights and opportunity for all.

Unfortunately, nowadays the challenges seem even more stark and overwhelming than during the times of Jesus, some two millennia ago.

Briefly describe your work and the aims of Holy Land Trust and how these conform to a nonviolent strategy that is partly inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Holy Land Trust is a Palestinian organization located in Bethlehem. Our aim is to discover and analyze the underlying issues that prevent a manifestation of peace and justice in the holy land. While some define a peace process as one that intends to reach a political agreement or settlement (a treaty), we define it as the practice that creates a space for understanding, respect and dignity for all in this land. Our three pillars of engagement are nonviolent activism (which addresses the institutions and structures of violence, marginalization and oppression), acknowledgement and healing of the collective trauma (the inherited traumatic events that shape identity to be suspicious of- or demonizing others); and leadership transformation (a methodology to develop leaders’ decision-making ability to engage in achieving what is practical but also that which is seen as impossible).

Colonialist-based ideologies have reshaped theological and religious understandings of the world.

As an organization, we provide space for international guests to visit, see, hear and experience what life is like for Palestinians. A key sector we aim for are Christians from the Western world who come to the holy land as pilgrims without the opportunity to experience the current reality, or worse: have a strong one-sided theological view that promotes violence and discrimination. In addition, Christian Evangelicals have substantial political power in the United States in general, and in Donald Trump’s administration in particular.

What are some of your future projects and goals?

I believe that the Holy Land is a microcosm to what is happening globally, and therefore any change here, in this deep sense, can also have a profound global effect.

The situation in the Holy Land and the world seems to be getting worse. Fear and its manipulation [are] the predominant means of holding on to power at all levels — social, economic, political, ecological and religious. Racism and dehumanization are on the rise. The white Judeo-Christian culture has entrenched its privilege and oppressive practices via the global capitalist market system. A collective rejectionist voice echoes the need for reforms, though a complete paradigm shift is absolutely necessary.

That said, our future projects in the holy land will continue to challenge such oppressive and racist systems through nonviolence and engage in trauma healing through individual work and community building, as we do with the Bet Lahem Live festival. We will challenge the global Christian community to play a more Christ-centered role and to undermine any theology that promotes fear and not love of others as Christ commanded. We will also continue to seek leadership that is committed to a new vision for the holy land. We will continue to focus on promoting women leaders, peace and justice activists, young adults and religious voices who share our philosophy.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The post The Role of Christians in the Struggle for Justice in Palestine appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Prisoners Strike for Civil Resurrection

Sun, 09/09/2018 - 13:27

Forty-five years ago today, New York State Police and hundreds of sheriffs ended one of the largest prison revolts in US history by raiding the Attica Correctional Facility, and firing more than 2,000 rounds at prisoners and hostages alike. In the massacre that ensued, the police killed 29 prisoners and 10 guards, brutally establishing to the world at large that prison officials would rather kill dozens of prisoners, as well as their own employees, than meet the demands of imprisoned people who were seeking the most basic means of survival and sanity.

Attica has since become a rallying cry for prison abolitionists and imprisoned organizers fighting for the rights of the incarcerated. The organizers of the 2018 prison strike, which began August 21, chose today — September 9, 2018 — as the official end of their 19-day-long series of work stoppages, hunger strikes, boycotts and other tactics meant to disrupt the daily order and financial functions of the prison system. The mere presence of people caged in US prisons generates profits, whether prisoners act as workers or not. But the prison lockdowns that often accompany strikes are costly for the state, with or without work stoppages, due to the cost of paying prison guards overtime. Indeed, there is a vast network of profit flowing in and out of prisons, whether they are labeled as “private,” for-profit institutions, or as public facilities, which are equally geared towards generating profits for the powerful. From privatized, over-priced phone calls and hygienic products to the uniforms imprisoned people wear and the low-quality food they are served, prisons are dungeon economies.

As a prison striker identified as JLS told Shadowproof, “Regardless of what they say, it’s always profit driven,” explaining that both prisons and immigrant detention centers treat human beings as commodities.

JLS added that the solidarity that has emerged between prison strikers and detained migrants was a natural bond, saying, “why we’re in solidarity, the biggest reason is because we understand those cages. And not only that, but it’s all the same system.”

Undocumented immigration rights organizer Aly Wayne recently told Truthout that “many migrants’ rights activists have started to articulate an increasingly abolitionist analysis.” Wayne, who is on the steering committee of Black Immigration Network, went on to explain that many of his fellow organizers appear to be “deepening their understanding that the immigrant detention system is but a subset of the larger prison industrial complex,” adding that an increasing number of immigration rights activists are forming “intentional” connections with “the broader incarcerated population.”

Some detained migrants have been placed in segregation units, which are akin to solitary confinement, for attempting to join the hunger strike, while others have been threatened with accelerated deportation. But whether they are forced to abandon their efforts or not, the mutual solidarity between prisoners and detainees reflects an analysis that troubles notions of who “deserves” to be subjected to a system of torture and who does not.

Meanwhile, the labor-based aspect of the strike is a powerful one, and has greatly contributed to solidarity efforts from outside of prison walls. Industrial Workers of the World, for example, has played a critical role in elevating the demands of the strikers and the broadening of their communications platform. There is much to be learned from the labor aspects of the national call to action. It is, after all, a “prison strike,” but as imprisoned organizers and their allies have continuously stated, participation has taken many shapes, and the demands prisoners are leveling address a broad scope of dehumanization.

Inhuman Conditions Lead to Violence and Despair

Amid heightened searches, and with the knowledge that organizers of previous strikes have faced violent retribution, one of the national organizers of the strike, whom I will refer to as “Eddie,” recently chose to take part in a conversation with four other journalists and me by way of a contraband cell phone. Eddie, who joined the call from a prison in South Carolina is imprisoned in a facility that, like Eddie’s legal name, will not be revealed in this piece. We were given a brief talk by an intermediary before Eddie joined the call, informing us that Eddie would be making the call in secret, and that his fellow prisoners would be taking pains to prevent his discovery. We were warned that the call could come to an abrupt end at any time.

Eddie opened the conversation by reminding us of how the strike began: It “was called due to the tragic deaths that occurred down at the Lee County Correctional Institution in the state of South Carolina.”

The deaths he was referring to occurred in April 2018, when seven prisoners were killed, with dozens more injured, after a prison brawl at Lee that emergency personnel characterized as a “mass casualty incident.” Prisoners say they were denied drinkable water for days at a time, and subjected to squalid conditions that fueled despair and anger among prisoners at Lee, setting the stage for a violent conflict. Corrections officers refused to intervene or secure care for injured prisoners for seven hours.

“It wasn’t just the seven deaths,” Eddie told us, but also over forty of these men were wounded and left to die alongside seven people who bled to death. “We just want everybody to remember the horrific conditions that brought these deaths about.”

Eddie detailed conditions in his own facility that were similar to those that escalated the violence in Lee County, due to tensions fueled by despair and deprivation. “We’ve had a high increase of prisoners fighting each other in the cells … with no interruption whatsoever,” he explained. Eddie also described a situation in which prisoners are sometimes “only afforded one shower a week” and a meal system that lacks basic components such as fruit and fails to provide for the nutritional needs of prisoners, leading to fatigue and weight loss.

“There’s a massive lockdown right now, in particular of all the maximum security prisons — medium and maximum — level three facilities as some would call it,” he said, adding that since April, hardly any prisoners have been allowed to access the medical staff.

“No recreation in the state of South Carolina, and we have steel plates over the windows, so there’s definitely no sunlight coming into the rooms, so people are kind of sitting in the dark,” he added, explaining that there’s been an increase in suicide attempts inside the state. “Prisoners have been slicing themselves with razors. I mean recently we heard a case where a guy sliced himself and tried to bite his vein out his arm.”

At one point during the call, Eddie told us to hang on and went silent. I held my breath, hoping he hadn’t been discovered by prison guards, but the pause was brief, and he continued.

Since April, imprisoned people at Eddie’s facility have been more or less warehoused, like non-human commodities who have been confined to their cells, unable to stretch their limbs except through sit-ups and push-ups in the cramped space.

Despite massive search efforts at prisons across the country, and the widespread confiscation of cell phones, Eddie feels certain that the strike has been a success. “We feel pretty good about the outreach, communication … we feel very damn good about the people who have been participating,” he said. Eddie also noted that news coverage of the strike has often oversimplified the effort by portraying it mainly as involving work stoppages, when in reality many prisoners do not have the option of working, and instead participated via sit-ins, boycotts and hunger strikes.

With various solidarity efforts happening outside of correctional facilities, Eddie emphasized the need for non-incarcerated allies to hold lawmakers accountable, saying public officials were “responsible for what’s taking place inside this country,” including conditions within the prison system. “Lawmakers … created these conditions,” he said. “And until their mindsets begin to change, nothing back here is going to change.”

Eddie also offered a dire warning about the future, predicting that “if we keep on this same track we’re going to have issues … far worse than Attica. And it’s coming very, very soon.”

Frustrations with the Media

The 2018 National Prison Strike has garnered considerably more mainstream coverage than previous strikes. While heartened by the added attention, imprisoned organizers and their allies have also voiced frustration with some of the media’s characterizations of the strike, and with the incomplete picture some outlets have presented. Some of the complaints imprisoned organizers have expressed about media coverage echo those of organizers within other movements — such as reductivist storytelling that oversimplifies their narrative and demands — while other complaints, according to organizers, have arisen from the media’s failure to research and understand the repression and surveillance imprisoned people face.

Eddie, for example, and other prisoners at his facility must seek permission to talk with the press. Such requests are unlikely to be honored at a time of unrest, but would also be used as a means to identify organizers. Prison phone calls are monitored and press coverage is tracked, leaving little room for traditional lines of communication. Some prison strikers have complained that journalists do not appreciate the lengths that imprisoned people must go to in order to protect their identities.

During the Georgia prison strike of 2010, Eddie says corrections officers “went after all the leaders off the top — every single leader — and we found those leaders was beat with hammers” and “black sticks.” In 2013, footage of some of those beatings surfaced, confirming prisoner accounts of horrific acts of retaliation for their organizing. As was the case with Attica, it can take years for the details of such retaliation to surface.

Eddie said organizers of prison strikes are also routinely placed in Supermax facilities. In Pelican Bay, where striking prisoners were already confined in a Supermax facility — a facility where prisoners are kept in full-time solitary confinement — Eddie says organizers were “placed in more darkness while right there in Pelican Bay.”

I tried to imagine what “more darkness” might look like, for a person already living in solitary confinement. Was it literal darkness? I feared there was little time to ask, and also hesitated to ask Eddie to describe in greater detail the kind of repression he might face, both because of his position as an organizer and because of his conversation with us.

In addition to exposing prisoners to potentially violent reprisal, revealing the identities of strike organizers would deal a major blow to the larger struggle for prisoners’ rights. “We’d be killing our movement off,” Eddie told us. “And that’s what we don’t want to happen.”

The Prison Strike’s 10 Demands

Organizers have circulated news of the strike, as well as suggested tactics, in a number of ways. One tool that prisoners have used to amplify their own message is a zine created with materials by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, The Fire Inside Collective and the National Lawyers Guild. In their section of the zine, The Fire Inside Collective offers “some historical context, careful thoughts, and the reasons we believe this summer will see the stars align behind the rebels.”

The zine also offers strategic organizing and legal advice to prisoners and details some of the varied ways imprisoned people can participate in a strike. While advising prisoners whose rights have been violated to exhaust their options within their prisons’ grievance system, the authors also voice an awareness of how little justice such processes offer, stating: “Whether seeking abolition or reform, decarceration or policy change, the struggle against mass incarceration advances most when driven by direct action inside prisons.”

One of the zine’s suggestions for supporters — an ask that has been echoed by many prisoners and allies — is that non-incarcerated allies work to circulate the prisoners’ ten demands, rather than simplifying the strike to just one demand, as much coverage has: the goal of eliminating “prison slavery.” The demands, which can be found in the zine as well as public statements from strike organizers, are:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees.

The strikers’ tenth demand is deeply rooted in liberation struggles, such as the Civil Rights movement. In a country where prisoners are routinely denied the right to vote, both during and after incarceration, the battle for suffrage behind bars, and after release, could not be more fundamental in a larger battle for civil rights. In fact, with over 2 million people who have been stripped of their rights, liberty and dignity by the prison system, the prison vote could be a game-changing force to be reckoned with — and the United States government, which has been content to let imprisoned people vanish into the hellish conditions of state dungeons, might be faced with a reckoning of its own.

Reclaiming Human Dignity

Prison abolitionists have often discussed the concept of civil death — the manner in which incarcerated people are stripped of their civil and human rights and cut off from any meaningful participation in society. When the torturous nature of prisons is understood, it becomes clear that a life sentence is a civil death sentence, and that even upon release, many prisoners find themselves locked out of society, rather than locked into a prison. Measures like house arrest, disenfranchisement, barriers to education and employment, as well as the trauma of torturous prison conditions, prevent many formerly incarcerated people from experiencing what most of us would characterize as “freedom.”

The dismantling of the prison system is unthinkable to most people who have never seen the inside of a prison, but the conditions imprisoned people are forced to endure should be equally unthinkable in the eyes of the public. It is therefore incumbent upon us to consider the prison strike as a battle for the moral reformation of a society that can no more cage its way to a better world than it can bomb its way there.

Like war, prisons are often treated as a necessity for the public good, despite all evidence to the contrary. Questions like, “what about the dangerous people?” are used to ward off any discussion of abolishing a system that profits from anti-Blackness, Native invisibility, disposability culture and the commodification of living beings.

Indeed, the prison system is fueled by fear, just as the military-industrial complex is maintained by a false notion that we must bomb countries that pose no threat to us in order to defend our own freedom. The vulnerable suffer so that the powerful may profit, and we, the public, allow torture and atrocity to be carried out in our own names — because we have been duped into fearing one another more than we fear what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: My own Government.”

As Eddie warned, the conditions prisoners face will only deteriorate in the current political climate, and the system will consume ever more victims — such as the detained migrant families whom the Trump administration will now house in indefinite detention centers. Anti-protest laws also place activists and the journalists who cover their movements at greater risk of incarceration. The march of Trumpism, which should be rightly named as fascism, will put more and more of us, and our communities, in the crosshairs of the prison-industrial complex.

In a society so misguided that it has elevated a reality TV star to the presidency — a man whose relationship with the truth is nonexistent, and whose unpredictable antics endanger all life on Earth — how do we move forward, and what hope do we have, in such dark times, of dismantling entrenched oppressions? Amid our head-spinning news cycles, and a seemingly endless stream of crises, where would such a story even begin?

Imprisoned organizers like Eddie are offering us a beginning to that story. It’s a story of hope in the darkest of places, where people subjected to civil death battle for civil resurrection, and for whatever soul our society has left.

The post Prisoners Strike for Civil Resurrection appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

A Sisterhood of Carpenters Builds Tiny Houses for the Homeless

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 15:49

For the volunteer tradeswomen who came together over several cold, wet weekends this spring to build a tiny-house village for homeless women in north Seattle, the ultimate reward wasn’t necessarily their finished handiwork.

Rather, it was the confidence and camaraderie the project inspired for many of the crew who, for the first time, worked on a construction site where they were not the only women.

Alice Lockridge, who spent a 30-year career training women to do physically demanding work, created the Women4Women initiative that brought them all together.

“These women go to work every day and are told they are not as good, they are taking some man’s job, and ‘Why are they there?’ Subtle and straight to their faces, every day for their entire careers,” Lockridge says.

With Women4Women, she says, “we made a place where they could come to work and share their skills and learn new skills in an environment that was free from all that.”

Whittier Heights Village is a community of 15 colorful tiny houses, each 100 square feet. In July, its new residents began moving in, many from the streets or from shelters around Seattle. The village also has a common building with a kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry.

Located on city-owned land, it is one of nine tiny-house villages in Seattle that serve as emergency shelters for the city’s homeless population. It is operated by the Low Income Housing Institute, which develops and operates housing for low-income and homeless people in Washington state. Each house costs about $2,500 to build, and the labor is mostly provided by volunteers.

Dozens of women—and also some men—from across the state answered Lockridge’s initial call for volunteers. Not all were carpenters; there also were gardeners, plumbers and electricians, and artists. They included tradespeople with years of experience and folks who hadn’t picked up a hammer in years.

“People talked about how different it was from their regular crew in the real world where they worked. … We worked, learned, and taught,” Lockridge says.

It was a different scene from the male-dominated worksites many of them report to every day.

While the construction industry has a narrower gender pay gap than US industries on average, Women4Women volunteer Linda Romanovitch said many women don’t see such work as viable career options.

Romanovitch, who spent 40 years in the construction trade, 32 of them as a supervisor and carpenter with the King County government, said that too often the only people being recruited into construction work are the brothers and sons of men who already have those jobs.

What’s more is that high school shop classes, which seldom attract girls in the first place, have been all but abandoned by most US high schools, meaning students miss out on exploring those options.

“It’s called the other four-year degree,” Romanovitch says. “You get benefits and a pension. All these things I’m promoting as a union carpenter, but my great passion is to promote this as a viable career option for women. It’s still a man’s world in construction.”

Romanovitch had assembled about 15 women from Sisters in the Brotherhood, a group of women in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters union who support and mentor one another.

She regularly coordinates volunteer projects for the women carpenters—from building tiny houses to repairing the homes of seniors and the disabled.

Sisters groups exist in carpenter locals across the country. In some cases, it’s just one woman, Romanovitch says. In the construction trades, women represent about 10 percent of 10.3 million construction workers in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Sisters have been going into middle and high schools to talk to young girls about construction work, and also visiting inmates in a women’s prison.

“The millennials are going to carry the water,” Romanovitch says. “But first we need to recruit them.”

The Sisters also have been trying to chip away at some of the barriers that keep women out of the trade, including harassment, for which the industry is well-known. They have been working with their union brothers to try to create healthier worksites overall, and they encourage women to report problems when they arise, Romanovitch says.

“But it’s at a snail’s pace,” she says. “There’s still a lot of old-school shit you are battling, but at least it’s being talked about.”

Saskia Brown experiences that on the job daily.

She got into a carpentry apprenticeship program 11 years ago after high school, when a friend suggested she try it instead of going to college. She liked the work and the pay and stayed, working her way up the ladder, becoming a lead and then forewoman about two years ago.

In her regular job, Brown oversees other carpenters on many large projects, including hospitals and high-rise apartment buildings throughout the Puget Sound region.

But the challenges of being the only woman on a site—and a supervisor on top of that—are unrelenting, she says. “Every day I have to prove that I know what I’m talking about.”

There is a base level of disrespect, she says, and she’s always being questioned, not so much by the men she supervises, but by the men working in upper management, project managers, and other foremen. “A lot of times they don’t even know they are doing it. That’s just the way the world is, the way construction is,” Brown says.

It’s why working on the Whittier Heights project felt so good.

Brown had learned about it at a meeting she regularly hosts for women carpenter apprentices. And unlike in her day job, she said, the 30 or so church volunteers she supervised on that project did not question her judgment or credentials. “It was nice and laid-back,” Brown recalls.

“No pissing contests. Everyone there had a common goal. It was refreshing.”

The post A Sisterhood of Carpenters Builds Tiny Houses for the Homeless appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

This School Year, Let’s Keep Kids in Classrooms

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 15:45

It’s no secret that our country incarcerates people of color at much higher rates than white people. What might be less well known is that this can begin in the classroom.

Across the country, schools routinely punish, suspend, and expel students of color at higher rates than white students — setbacks that can follow students for years. Those were the findings of a new Institute for Policy Studies report called Students Under Siege.

I saw this firsthand going to school in Indiana. A report by the Indiana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that Indiana “ranks second in the country in its rate of black male out-of-school suspensions” and “ranks fourth in the rate of black female out-of-school suspensions.”

It’s not an issue of one group “misbehaving” more than another. An Indiana University study found that black and Latino students are suspended for much more subjective reasons than their white peers. For instance, a white student might be suspended for smoking, while a black, Latino, or Latina student might be suspended for the much murkier offense of being “disruptive.”

I watched the same pattern play out at William Henry Harrison, the West Lafayette, Indiana high school I graduated from in 2015. Despite students of color making up less than a quarter of its student body, they’re overrepresented in suspension rates.

In 2015, 20 percent of black students, 12.3 percent of Latino and Latina students, and 10.5 percent of students identifying with two or more races received in-school suspensions. Numbers were similar for out-of-school suspensions, and rose considerably for students who were expelled: Half were Latino and a quarter were black.

What can schools do to combat these suspensions rates? Portage High School in Northwest Indiana offers an example of the positive effects restorative justice can have on students.

Restorative justice, a government report from neighboring Illinois explains, is “a philosophy based on a set of principles that guide the response to conflict and harm,” influenced by indigenous and religious practices. Instead of punishing students, restorative justice hopes to empower students to fully understand why they act the way they do, and take steps to heal any harms they cause.

Jackson, a Portage student whose story was reported in the Northwest Indiana Times, was deemed a “troublemaker” in middle school. He was written up almost 200 times when he was a seventh grader and expelled the following year. He acted this way, he later said, because he’d just moved from Chicago and didn’t feel like the other students respected him.

At Portage, Jackson was introduced to restorative justice by Sandra Porter-Philips, a social and emotional learning specialist who also manages the school’s Teen Court. He’s participated in the school’s restorative justice circle for the past two years.

The circle has given him an “outlet to relieve my anger” in a healthy way, he said. He’s now passing all his classes and participating in multiple school sports.

Fortunately, interest in restorative justice seems to be growing. The Indiana House recently passed a bill that aims to decrease suspension rates. If the bill passes the state Senate, Indiana’s Department of Education would create an “evidence-based plan” that focuses on “positive discipline strategies and restorative practices.” The plan would go into effect sometime in the next two years.

Restorative justice is moving forward in districts all over the country — from Washington, DC to Oakland, California. And I hope the idea keeps spreading here in Indiana — and maybe even to my old school, Harrison.

The post This School Year, Let’s Keep Kids in Classrooms appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Is Harvey Weinstein Buying Favorable Treatment From Law Enforcement?

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 15:38

Harvey Weinstein was a catalyst for the resurgence of the #MeToo movement, especially after questions began to emerge about irregularities at the office of the DA investigating him. Now another chapter in the sordid story has begun: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, currently facing an embattled primary, mysteriously put a pause on the state attorney general’s investigation into the Manhattan DA’s handling of the case.

Or maybe not so mysteriously. Shortly before he made the decision, Cuomo’s campaign received a $25,000 donation from the firm of David Boies, an attorney historically linked with Weinstein.

This situation started in 2015, when Boies donated to the campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., the man charged with investigating Weinstein. Ultimately, the DA decided not to prosecute a 2015 sexual assault case, despite the fact that there was considerable evidence available – including audio from a wire worn by the victim — certainly enough, some felt, to bring the case to trial and give a jury a chance to hear it. After public outcry, Vance opted to move forward with charges.

But legal advocacy group Time’s Up called for closer scrutiny of the circumstances of this case, given the mounting allegations against Weinstein. In response, Cuomo directed the state attorney general to investigate, with the aim of determining whether something improper happened. Along the way, the state’s attorney general was forced to resign because of intimate partner violence allegations, and the current attorney general, Barbara Underwood, was put on the case.

In June, Cuomo opted to put a hold on the investigation for six months, though the news only just broke. Spokespeople for his office said this shouldn’t affect the Manhattan district attorney’s ability to continue looking into the Weinstein case — and could actually even help the DA’s office maintain an impartial investigation.

But that doesn’t mean this issue is over; even if Vance ultimately did decide to charge Weinstein, if campaign donations influenced his earlier decision-making, that needs to be exposed and discussed.

In a statement provided to Capital & Main, Cuomo’s office said:

The attorney general’s investigation was suspended to avoid situations in which Weinstein’s defense attorneys would be able to constantly petition the attorney general’s office for information about what they uncovered and undermine a criminal prosecution.

Opting to suspend the investigation for the duration of the case could mean that it’s years before the state attorney general has an opportunity to look into the Manhattan DA’s actions. Justice delayed can be justice denied.

The attorney general’s office is also conducting a separate civil rights investigation into Weinstein, and spokespeople say that investigation will continue.

Meanwhile, campaign finance records show nearly $250,000 in donations to Cuomo over the years. While Weinstein and Boies have since parted ways, the two are clearly still connected — and Boies would have a vested interest in limiting investigation into his donations to Vance over the years. The governor’s office insists that his decision is not connected to Weinstein, noting that Boies no longer represents the disgraced producer, but there’s certainly an appearance of impropriety here.

The series of decisions around Weinstein and some other high-profile cases, however, is leading people to ask whether campaign donations are influencing policy decisions at law enforcement agencies in New York.

The practice of electing people like district attorneys, and thereby creating room for political influence, is worrisome to some members of the public who would prefer to see these public figures unbiased; if wealthy people can buy their way out of investigations and prosecutions, that’s an injustice to their victims as well as those who don’t have that level of financial privilege.

The post Is Harvey Weinstein Buying Favorable Treatment From Law Enforcement? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Scott Pruitt’s Personal Security Cost Taxpayers Over $3.5 million: EPA Audit

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 15:31

You, the American taxpayer, spent over $3.5 million providing US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt with an unprecedented round-the-clock security detail — and that security force may have been operating both outside of the law and without justification.

That’s the message the EPA’s internal watchdog has for American taxpayers after concluding an audit of the environmental agency’s security protocols from September 2016 to May 2018.

Over just 11 months in 2017, Pruitt racked up millions — on the taxpayers’ dime — on his own personal security, more than double the amount spent on security by previous administrators.

And Pruitt’s security detail, unlike previous teams, didn’t use US Marshalls, who are the ones authorized by the Government Accountability Office to carry firearms and make arrests, the audit found. EPA stopped using those US Marshalls in 2017. Instead, it used EPA agents who only have clear authority from Congress to fight the nation’s environmental crimes. Those crimes can include illegally dumping hazardous waste or keeping dangerous toxic accidents concealed from the public.

Instead of focusing on that important job, EPA agents were assigned to provide 24/7 security to the EPA administrator — but those agents lacked clear legal authority from Congress, meaning they may have been operating outside of the limits of federal law. Asked repeatedly to provide the legal basis for using those agents to keep Pruitt under constant federal protection, the audit concluded that Pruitt’s EPA failed to answer for over a year.

“EPA law enforcement authority … is limited to investigation of criminal violations of laws administered by the EPA,” the EPA Office of the Inspector General audit concluded. “By contrast, the Secret Service statute states, in part, that the service is authorized to protect the President, his family, former Presidents, presidential candidates and other distinguished foreign visitors, to name a few. No similar language exists in the comparable EPA statute.”

Worse, Pruitt’s EPA spent that $3.5 million “without documented justification,” the audit found, adding that the agency “did not conduct a threat analysis … to determine the increased level of protection necessary or desired for Administrator Pruitt.”

The EPA provided investigators with a report showing “statistical data” and the details surrounding some threats but “did not assess the potential danger presented by any of these threats.” The information provided “should not have been used to justify protective services,” the audit added. Furthermore, that report was prepared nearly six months after the ramped-up security detail started providing round-the-clock protection.

The audit does not cover some of the more attention-getting security expenses incurred by Pruitt’s EPA — his requests for a bullet-proof SUV, the sound-proof telephone booth, or other tactical gear that dominated headlines during Pruitt’s tenure. It instead focuses on the staffing of Pruitt’s security team, called the Protective Service Detail. Previous EPA administrators used that security detail during travel, but Pruitt had 24/7 protection from a staff of 19 agents, up from a staff of six, according to the audit.

“The Inspector General’s report today confirms what we already know: there was no serious evaluation of the so-called ‘threats’ to former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s personal safety, and no reason to justify providing him with round the clock security and first class travel,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former director of civil enforcement at EPA. “Nothing more than paranoia and mismanagement explains why taxpayers shelled out more than $3.5 million last year — more than twice the amount spent in previous Administrations — on Mr. Pruitt’s personal bodyguard.”

The audit was initially launched before Trump or Pruitt took office, EPA auditors said in a recorded interview published on their website, in response to a hotline tip that some members of the EPA’s Protective Service Detail were getting premium pay for hours that should have been at normal rates, potentially by taking home overtime pay that wasn’t authorized. The audit found that unauthorized overtime added up to $106,507 between January 2016 and March 2017 — a sliver of the $3.5 million in other problems auditors documented.

They recommended steps to ensure that threats were properly assessed in the future, recommending routine threat assessments like those conducted by other agencies and establishing policies to prevent abuses in the future.

But, the auditors added, the EPA has not yet taken many of the steps they recommended.

“The agency took or agreed to take sufficient corrective actions for four of our 12 recommendations,” the audit found, “but the remaining eight remain unresolved.”

The post Scott Pruitt’s Personal Security Cost Taxpayers Over $3.5 million: EPA Audit appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

In Chicago Shelters, Immigrant Children Contemplate Escape, Even Suicide

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 15:10

One 16-year-old from Guatemala said he wanted to “quitarme la vida,” or “take my life away,” as he waited to be released from a Chicago shelter for immigrant children. He was kept there for at least 584 days.

A 17-year-old from Guinea went on a hunger strike, telling staff members he refused to eat until he saw evidence they were trying to find him a home. He was released nearly nine months after he entered a shelter.

And a 10-month-old boy, forcibly separated from his father at the US-Mexico border in March, was bitten repeatedly by an older child and later hospitalized after falling from a highchair. He was detained for five months.

ProPublica Illinois has obtained thousands of confidential records about the nine federally funded shelters in the Chicago area for immigrant youth operated by the nonprofit Heartland Human Care Services — some dating back years, others from as recently as last week.

The documents provide a sweeping overview of the inner workings and life inside one of the country’s largest shelter networks for unaccompanied minors, including children separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

While the records focus on Illinois shelters, they provide a rare glimpse of a secretive detention system that holds children at more than 100 sites across the country. They include descriptions of serious incident reports filed with the federal government, caseworkers’ notes on family reunifications, employee schedules, daily rosters, internal emails and more.

The documents reveal the routines of life inside the shelters, days punctuated by tedium and fear as children wait and wait and wait to leave. They spend their days taking English lessons and learning about such peculiarities as American slang, St. Patrick’s Day, the NFL and the red carpet fashions at the Academy Awards. They complain about the food and mistreatment by staff. And they cry and write letters and hurt themselves in despair.

In what they say and write, and in what is said and written about them, one truth becomes abundantly clear: The longer children are detained, the more they struggle.

And the time they spend inside is getting longer. The average length of stay nationally in fiscal year 2017 was 34 days. It grew to 57 days in June amid the Trump administration’s border crackdown that divided families, and then more recently to 59 days, federal officials told ProPublica Illinois last week.

But that figure masks the harsh reality that some children have spent hundreds of days waiting to leave. In Chicago alone, 27 children who were in Heartland’s care during the month of July — including several from India, Guatemala and Nepal — had been held for 200 days or more, records show. A 17-year-old from Honduras had been in custody the longest: 598 days.

“It’s traumatic to have this indefinite detention,” said Emily Ruehs-Navarro, an assistant professor of sociology at Elmhurst College near Chicago who has studied shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children. “It’s a vicious cycle where the longer kids stay, the more trauma is compounded on their situation.”

Children — many of whom are reeling from the trauma of rape, violence or other abuse in their home countries or during their treks to the United States — languish as caseworkers try to find sponsors and persuade them to undergo background checks. Those without relatives or family friends in the US remain in custody even longer, sometimes rejected by long-term foster care programs already filled to capacity.

As caseworkers try to find placements, the older teens live in fear of turning 18. Records show that immigration officials, almost without fail, arrive on the children’s birthdays to take them into custody.

Heartland acknowledged that extended stays lead to some children “becoming frustrated and losing motivation and hope,” the agency wrote in a 2017 report to the federal government. When children are left inside for extended periods, the report continued, there is “no incentive” for them to behave.

Both Heartland and federal officials say they work hard to quickly find homes for children. The federal government makes the final call on when children can be released from a shelter.

In a statement to ProPublica Illinois, Heartland officials declined to comment on specific incidents involving children, but acknowledged that those affected by the zero tolerance policy “don’t want to be with us at all — they just want to go home.”

“That can play out in deep feelings of despair, unhappiness, wanting to escape, and even suicidal thoughts,” they said. “This has nothing to do with the shelter and everything to do with the trauma and horror these children have lived through — coming to a foreign country, being brought to an unknown place without your loved one, and suffering emotionally from being forcibly separated from their parents.”

Classes, Acculturation and Despair

Records reveal a regimented existence inside the shelters, with employees controlling nearly every minute of a child’s day. Though children attend class and play games and sports outside, they must walk in single-file lines and, for the most part, can’t move about buildings without permission.

“You wake up by 7 a.m., have a shower, then they give you breakfast,” recounted a 16-year-old from Nigeria who, along with two sisters, spent more than a month at a shelter this spring.

“I went to a lot of classes,” recalled a 15-year-old from Brazil now living with her mother in Philadelphia. “Three to four classes in the morning, then three more after lunch.”

Children spend hours each day in class, mostly learning English. Schedules and other records document regular activities around mental health and vocational education, from building positive relationships to writing a resume. Children who behave go on field trips to Chicago’s major cultural destinations, including art and science museums.

The records describe regular “community meetings” at the shelters during which children can voice their opinions. During one meeting in early 2017, children at the Casa Guadalupe shelters in suburban Des Plaines complained about finding hair in their food. That prompted management to remind staff to wear gloves and hairnets.

At another shelter, children requested coffee, hair bands and different shampoo.

The children, records show, said they were being unfairly punished by staff when other children acted out. In response, management talked to employees about how “sometimes our typical response is not an appropriate consequence.”

Other complaints, described in the documents and ProPublica Illinois interviews with children, involved food — not having enough of it or being forced to eat everything on their plates.

Nearly a dozen children who were recently released from a Heartland shelter told ProPublica Illinois they were grateful for the care they received: three meals a day, a bed and a roof over their heads.

A 16-year-old from India, who spent 114 days at Heartland’s largest facility on Chicago’s South Side, reported no problems during his time there and said he made some friends. He’s now happy to be with family in New York, his aunt said.

“He was alone and no family (was there), so that thing was very hard for him,” she said.

For the most part, several children said, shelter employees were kind. But they repeatedly also said employees would sometimes threaten to slow reunification efforts when children refused to take part in daily activities — as some children sometimes did if they were “too sad” to participate.

Heartland said such threats are not its policy. Ruehs-Navarro said children with repeated behavioral problems, or those who express suicidal thoughts or other psychological needs, may spend longer inside shelters because their caseworkers must ensure potential sponsors are prepared to provide the support they need.

“It’s supposed to be a protective measurement,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be a punishment, but it ends up being a punishment.”

For the 16-year-old who cried out that he wanted to “take my life away,” life before the shelter was already traumatic: He told Heartland staff that he came to the United States in early 2015 to flee violence in Guatemala, where he said he had been shot at twice and extorted by a gang.

As months passed in the shelter, new problems emerged. He talked about suicide, running away and hearing voices. More than a year later, documents note he became upset after receiving an update from his caseworker about the effort to place him with a sponsor. He punched a door in anger.

He didn’t leave until four months later, in late 2016. It’s unclear where he went.

“Just Wait Until the Paperwork Is Done”

Heartland, which cares for some 3,000 unaccompanied minors each year, receives more federal funding to do this work than all but three other organizations in the country. Heartland is part of a larger nonprofit organization called Heartland Alliance, which is based in Chicago and works on a range of issues, including human rights, housing and health care.

A former senior official with the Department of Health and Human Services said Heartland has a reputation for longer lengths of stays than the rest of the nation’s shelter network in part because it cares for a disproportionate number of children with physical and psychological challenges.

Advocates for immigrant children and some Heartland employees say there’s another reason for the more recent increases in lengths of stays: the public attention on children separated under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, as well as a court-ordered deadline to reunite those families. Together, those factors put pressure on shelter staff to prioritize those cases at the expense of other children in the shelters.

Heartland officials said the arrival of children under the zero-tolerance policy has not had a “significant” effect on getting other children back to their families. Instead, they point to other reasons for the delays, including more onerous federal requirements for potential sponsors. All household members, for instance, now need to be fingerprinted.

And new federal regulations require information on sponsors to be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which could deter possible sponsors with household members who are undocumented immigrants. In the case of one 16-year-old from Honduras, records describe a delay after the “sponsor was scared to go to a police station for fingerprinting.”

The records obtained by ProPublica Illinois show how the process of matching children to sponsors — relatives, friends or foster families — can be drawn out. Shelter staff must ask for copies of birth certificates, photos or other documents to try to confirm relationships.

A relative of one 17-year-old who was released this summer told ProPublica Illinois how he sent letters to the boy’s mother in Bangladesh and waited for her to sign them and mail them back. He said he had to constantly reassure the teen, who was held for 11 weeks in Chicago, that he would be released soon.

“I told him, ‘Just wait until the paperwork is done,’” he said.

Cost is another factor. Federal guidelines require sponsors to pay for the plane tickets from a shelter to a new home for both the child and an escort. But many sponsors, often part of the same family, have little money to begin with and have gone into debt to send the children to the US. One mother, for instance, told authorities she sold her home in India to pay for her child’s journey here, according to documents.

In another case, a potential sponsor for a 17-year-old Guatemalan boy told shelter staff he had asked the boy’s relatives for 30,000 quetzales, or close to $4,000, to help pay for the costs of obtaining legal documents and a flight from Chicago to Florida. That sponsor was rejected, and a few days later, the boy told staff that “he wanted to kill himself due to receiving news that his sponsor was denied,” according to the documents.

Heartland officials said they understand the concerns surrounding travel expenses — as much as $1,250, some families told ProPublica Illinois — and in cases of “extreme hardship,” the federal government will cover the costs.

Several Heartland employees told ProPublica Illinois that staffing shortages also offer an explanation for growing lengths of stays. Family reunification specialists, they said, are sometimes asked to do other tasks, such as supervising children or cleaning up after meals. That takes them away from getting children safely placed with sponsors.

Federal monitors, in fact, reminded Heartland officials in an August 2016 email that family reunification specialists and clinicians “should not be assigned to other duties” because it “significantly and negatively impacts [level of care].”

But staffing woes continue. In July, a program manager at Casa Guadalupe sent an email to employees asking for volunteers to fill dozens of overtime shifts. One Sunday, the email shows, seven slots were available for a morning shift with 13 positions.

In another email a few days later, the program manager asked if staffers could work even part of a shift because the shelter “is in the need of help this week, especially Thursday, Friday and Saturday shifts.”

In recent weeks, current employees said, Heartland announced it would bring in temporary workers to help out at its shelters, including its largest facility, in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.

Heartland officials acknowledged their struggle to retain employees at the shelters.

“Our front-line staff have very tough jobs and can experience fatigue like many who do this work,” they said in a statement. “Moreover, the fluctuation and unpredictability of the number of intakes into our program present challenges for retaining full-time staff.”

The statement said that, when necessary, it “worked with specialized staffing agencies” and that those “temporary staff” go through background checks and training before they work with children.

Heartland regularly recruits for new full-time staff, and it recently hosted a job fair down the street from Casa Guadalupe focused on bilingual candidates, according to a flyer for the event. The former HHS official said that meeting children’s language needs has long been a challenge for Heartland because the organization receives many of the non-Spanish speaking minors in federal care.

Officials from Heartland said the organization “has the capacity to accept a diverse population due to the many languages spoken by its staff.”

Records show that, during July, about 60 percent of the minors in Heartland shelters were from non-Spanish-speaking countries, including India, Bangladesh, Brazil and Romania. At shelters across the country, the vast majority of children are from Central America and Mexico.

This summer, incidents related to staffing at Heartland shelters fell under unprecedented public scrutiny. Federal and state authorities opened investigations into the agency after news reports alleged staff at Casa Guadalupe gave a Guatemalan boy injections that made him sleepy.

Both investigations are ongoing, but Heartland officials said an internal review found no evidence to support the claims.

Lawyers for an 11-year-old boy sued Heartland in federal court in July alleging Casa Guadalupe staff was negligent for ignoring his cries for help, and claimed he was bullied and physically injured by an older child. Heartland has not responded to the filing in court, although officials from the organization have said they have found no evidence of negligence.

ProPublica Illinois previously reported that Heartland has been cited by the state Department of Children and Family Services several times in recent years for failing to provide appropriate supervision. In one case, children were found to have had oral sex in a common room at a shelter. In another, an employee allegedly engaged in a sexual relationship with a detained teen.

Heartland officials declined to address the specific incidents but said they “represent highly rare occasions.”

A Fear of Turning 18

On a recent Thursday morning, more than a dozen boys and girls wearing matching polo shirts and jeans filed into the courtroom of Chicago immigration Judge Jennie Giambastiani, who handles the court’s juvenile docket.

The children were being held in Heartland facilities and ranged in age from a 14-year-old Honduran girl with dark hair pulled into two bunches, to several 17-year-old boys with beards and mustaches beginning to sprout. Most of the children sat silently and looked down at their hands clasped in their laps. One teen periodically wiped his sweaty palms on his knees while another bounced his foot.

All were represented by attorneys from the National Immigrant Justice Center, also a subsidiary of the Heartland Alliance.

Giambastiani spoke briefly with every child — all but one through an interpreter — and asked the same questions: their name, age and, depending on the answer, how soon they would turn 18.

“Oh, that’s coming up,” she told one young man.

The judge turned to the attorney of another young man and issued the same warning she had repeated many times that morning: “With his 18th birthday looming, I don’t want him to miss an opportunity” to be placed with a sponsor.

“Please be mindful of that,” she added.

A child’s 18th birthday is a dreaded milestone marked by the arrival of federal immigration agents at shelter doors, sometimes just after midnight. Current and former staff said they have overheard older children talk about running away as their birthday approached. Some have been successful.

In some cases, Heartland assigns a staff member to monitor the child.

Heartland officials said they “have not had a significant number of children turn 18 while they are in our care.” But records show that, in July alone, at least six detained youths were picked up by ICE agents the day they turned 18.

A federal detainee locator showed that three of those teens remained in adult detention more than a month after they were transferred, including one in a county jail in Illinois that contracts with the federal government to provide immigrant detention. It’s unclear if the other three 18-year-olds were deported or released.

Nationally, between 1,000 and 1,200 children who turned 18 while in custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement were taken to ICE adult detention facilities in fiscal year 2017, according to a lawsuit filed in March by NIJC and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. The suit seeks to halt the practice of automatically transferring 18-year-olds into adult facilities without considering “the least restrictive setting” — including non-detention placements — as required by law.

In some cases, teens who had secured placements were still transferred to ICE on their 18th birthday, according to documents filed in the lawsuit.

“The concerns and vulnerabilities of immigrant kids don’t magically disappear on their 18th birthday,” Kate Melloy Goettel, an attorney with NIJC, said.

What changes in adult detention is not all for the worse. On one hand, 18-year-olds can receive visitors, something that rarely happens at youth shelters because of the confidentiality around their locations.

But they lose access to free calls to families, daily classes and caseworkers. They trade in their plain shelter clothes for jail jumpsuits and, depending on where they are sent, their bunkmates for men and women charged with serious crimes. And instead of worrying about whether a sponsor will take them, the 18-year-olds wait to see if they will be eligible for release or whether their families can afford to bond them out.

Last week, a US District Court judge denied a government request to dismiss the lawsuit and allowed it to move forward as a class-action suit to include all unaccompanied children transferred to ICE facilities after they turned 18.

Heartland officials said that they believe the right to seek safety and asylum extends to children who turn 18 while in shelters and that they oppose “the prosecution, detention and the return” of those children in search of such reprieves.

Sometimes, young people are so fearful of turning 18 — or were already 18 when they entered the country — that they lie about their birthdate or show fake birth certificates. Federal guidelines instruct staff who suspect supposed minors are actually adults to verify their age in part to avoid housing adults with children. Shelter staff can seek medical procedures such as forensic dental exams and bone density tests as part of the process.

Two Heartland workers said the evaluations are performed by an area dentist under the guise of a routine checkup. Heartland officials did not respond to questions about this process but instead referred to the federal guidelines.

The Heartland records show that in July, a young man from Ghana and a woman from Honduras in the shelters were turned over to ICE after “age redeterminations.”

Beatriz, a 15-year-old from Brazil, recalled how another girl she became friends with during her nearly nine months at a Heartland shelter was turned over to ICE after staff discovered the girl was actually in her early 20s. Beatriz said her friend was eventually released from federal custody and now lives with relatives on the East Coast.

Beatriz, meanwhile, lives in Atlanta, though she recently returned to Chicago for an immigration court hearing. She said she often thinks about her time at the Heartland shelter, even searching for it online using Google Street View, remembering the name of the street and of a nearby school.

And she has remained in touch with the friends she made inside, including the young woman now on the East Coast, through a messaging app.

They named their WhatsApp group “Sweet Freedom.”

ProPublica senior reporter Ginger Thompson and ProPublica Illinois news applications fellow Katlyn Alo contributed to this report.

The post In Chicago Shelters, Immigrant Children Contemplate Escape, Even Suicide appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Modi’s Attack on Left-Leaning Intellectuals Threatens India’s Democracy

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 14:51

In a nationwide operation on August 28 by the government of right-wing Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, security officials raided the homes of eight activists, lawyers and journalists, eventually arresting Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao. They were booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a draconian anti-terrorism law that has been used by the government to curb freedom of expression and association in the name of national security.

They are not terrorists. Neither are Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson or Mahesh Raut, who were arrested in June. They are activists, writers, poets, journalists and lawyers. They are citizens of India who believe in the plurality of our country and fight for its most marginalized. For that, they are being punished by a regime that, since its ascendance, has worked to polarize Indian democracy along fault lines of religion, caste and creed.

The crackdown reinforces what some Indian intellectuals have referred to as a silent “emergency” — alluding to the India of the 1970s, when the authoritarian regime of Indira Gandhi consolidated power to gut all political opposition. She gave Indian security forces undue power against journalists and effectively turned the world’s largest democracy into a police state.

Protests have since sprung up across India to rally for these activists. Last week, nearly a thousand people marched near the country’s parliament, sparking satellite actions across the country and online. The movement is using the hashtag #MeTooUrbanNaxal, which is an allusion to the derogatory phrase used by the government to discredit left-leaning activists and thinkers as members of the Naxalites, a Maoist rebel group that has been at war with the Indian government since the 1960s.

I met some of these activists while reporting for The Nation on the detention of GN Saibaba, a paralyzed Delhi University professor who was sentenced to life in prison in March 2017. Saibaba has been held in solitary confinement at the colonial-era penitentiary Nagpur Central Prison since last year. Like those arrested last week and in June, Saibaba was a vocal activist for India’s indigenous community, whose land has been claimed by dozens of multinational mining corporations. Surendra Gadling was his defense attorney. Arun Ferreira — himself a political dissident, who spent five years in prison — was also working for the professor’s defense.

The latest crackdown resembles the one that led to Saibaba’s arrest. According to news reports, police seized pen drives, laptops and cellphones from the homes of those who were raided. A police spokesperson told local press that “all evidence was scientifically analyzed,” a laughable claim from a regime that has promoted Hindu astrology, attacked the theory of evolution and promoted the use of cow urine as a catch-all cure for disease. Perhaps more tellingly, a government prosecutor told the media, the reason for the arrests were that the accused were part of an “anti-fascist front,”indicative of the drastic shift in India’s idea of tolerated discourse.

Even the letters allegedly seized from the home of activist Rona Wilson in June are reminiscent of Saibaba’s case: Police presented letters from an unidentified “R” to an equally mysterious “Comrade Prakash” proposing to overthrow the Modi regime in a “Rajiv Gandhi-like attack,” referencing the Indian prime minister killed by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber in 1991. In Saibaba’s case, the prosecution made tenuous claims that “Comrade Prakash” was one of Saibaba’s aliases, which is made even less credible by the fact that the electronic evidence collected against Saibaba, who was made to give up his passwords, was mishandled and improperly stored.

Sept. 5 marked the one-year anniversary of the murder of writer Gauri Lankesh, a prominent critic of the prime minister and his Hindu nationalist ideology. Since then the Modi regime has been eliminating dissent with sniper-like efficiency. India ranks 138 out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Ranking — behind war-torn Afghanistan, Duterte’s Philippines and even Myanmar, a quasi-democracy that is accused of genocide by an independent U.N. investigation. This is largely thanks to the murders of atheist bloggers and writers by goons linked to the government’s Hindu nationalist parent organization; it’s also attributable to the influence of Fox-like news on Indian media, where a new crop of nationalist broadcast networks routinely label government critics as desh drohi, or “anti-national,” and to the muzzling of civil society activists and protests at universities.

The Supreme Court has stepped in, first declaring that the dissidents should be kept under house arrest until September 6, before extending their house arrest by another six days. This was not a privilege afforded to those arrested alongside Saibaba, whose health is in peril, and whose case is disappearing into the bureaucratic gridlock of the Indian judiciary.

The Modi regime is honing its aim ahead of the country’s upcoming election, and the human cost is grave. Today I am thinking of advocate Gadling, who welcomed me into his home last winter, feeding me copious amounts of chai and poha as he gushed about the possibility of his pre-teen son pursuing a career in law.

I am thinking of Arun Ferreira, whose last words to me as I left his small Bombay office have stuck with me. I asked him about his five years in prison, about the torture and dehumanization, about not being able to see his infant son for the first few years of his life.

“How did you continue on?” I asked. “We continue on because we have to, because there is nothing else you can do,” he replied. Hours after my meeting with Ferreira, my father passed away. Those words helped me through my grief.

Most of all I am thinking of Professor GN Saibaba, for whom the possibility of dying in prison is even more real, now that his defenders are suffering the same fate.

Camus said it was the job of the thinking man not to be on the side of the executioner. Today, Modi holds the hangman’s rope.

The post Modi’s Attack on Left-Leaning Intellectuals Threatens India’s Democracy appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Exposed: Animal Abuse at US Supplier to World’s Largest Meat Company

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 13:50
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and images of animal abuse.

In September of last year, two executives of JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, based in Brazil, were arrested and charged with insider trading. In May 2017, the billionaire siblings—Wesley Batista, JBS’s CEO, and his younger brother Joesley, the firm’s former chairman—admitted to bribing more than 1,800 politicians and government officials, including meat inspectors, in an effort to avoid food safety checks.

Now, new undercover video shot by a Mercy for Animals (MFA) investigator at Tosh Farms, a JBS pork supplier based in Franklin, Kentucky, exposes what the animal rights group calls the “malicious and systemic abuse of mother pigs and piglets.”

“I’ll never forget the way they looked up at me,” said Tyler, the MFA investigator, about the pigs he documented at Tosh Farms. “They all shared the same look of helplessness and fear.”

“One mother pig stumbled down a corridor with her uterus hanging outside her body. She wouldn’t live much longer,” he said on an MFA website launched specifically to document the JBS investigation,

Tyler witnessed workers at Tosh Farms kicking and striking animals in their faces, ripping out the testicles of piglets without any pain relief, and even smashing the heads of piglets against the ground in order to kill them.

Those piglets who did not immediately die were left to suffer, denied proper veterinary care. “A worker grabbed a piglet, just hours old, by the feet and swung him high and then slammed his head down against the hard concrete,” said Tyler. “Any life left quickly vanished.”

“From the day pigs are born until the day they are violently killed for JBS pork, their lives are filled with misery and deprivation,” said Matt Rice, president of MFA, in a press statement. “If JBS executives abused even one dog or cat the way their suppliers abuse millions of pigs, they would be jailed for cruelty to animals. As the largest meat company in the world, JBS has the power and responsibility to end this torture.”

Clare Ellis, publisher of Stone Pier Press, which recently released “Sprig the Rescue Pig,” the first of its Farm Animal Rescue Books for children, was appalled: “Stories like this are even more heartbreaking and upsetting when you consider how very smart, curious, affectionate and sensitive pigs are.” She added that, “Close to 99 percent of animals raised for food come from factory farms, which, in addition to being terribly cruel, do an enormous amount of environmental damage.”

Following the July 17 release of the video, which was taken between December 2017 and March 2018, JBS said it suspended shipments from that supplier site. “The images presented in the video fall completely outside the company’s standards,” JBS said in a statement, but did not name the supplier involved.

But for MFA, suspending shipments from that single supplier isn’t nearly enough. “JBS’s decision to suspend Tosh Farms as a supplier is too little, too late,” Kenny Torrella, director of communications with MFA, told Truthout. “It amounts to nothing more than meaningless PR spin.”

The group, headquartered in Los Angeles, is now calling on JBS to end factory farm cruelty across its global pork supply chains, including the elimination of painful mutilations. In addition, MFA is calling on JBS to prohibit its suppliers from housing sows in tiny gestation crates for nearly their entire lives. These metal cages, the standard of which measures just 6.6 feet x 2 feet—so small that they can’t even turn around or lie down comfortably—are where pregnant sows live in factory farms around the globe for nearly their entire lives. In the United States as of 2016, there were 5.36 million breeding sows, most of them kept in gestation crates.

Confined to tiny gestation crates, mother pigs are not only denied basic natural behaviors like playing, exploring and engaging with their peers and children, but they also must endure immense and prolonged mental and emotional suffering. “These curious animals lose their minds from frustration and stress,” writes Lucas Alvarenga, vice president of MFA in Brazil. “They often also suffer painful pressure sores from rubbing against the bars of their crates and crippling joint problems as their muscles waste away from lack of use.”

While gestation crates are still the norm across the world, things are beginning to change for the better. Canada, the European Union, New Zealand and Australia, as well as 10 US states, have banned cruel gestation crates. Further, more than 60 major food companies—including McDonald’s, Walmart, Burger King and Nestlé—have said they would ban gestation crates from their suppliers.

In addition, California voters will have the opportunity in November to ban the sale of pork from pigs confined in gestation crates. If the measure passes, that will impact Tosh Farms and JBS, as the pigs reared at Tosh are then transported to a JBS slaughterhouse in Louisville, Kentucky, which supplies pork products to stores across California.

The systemic abuse and torture of pigs is an industry-wide problem. Last year, MFA investigators at the Aurora cooperative pig factory farm in the state of Santa Catarina in Brazil, the third-largest meat producer in Brazil and a major pork exporter to the United States, recorded video of pigs and piglets enduring a wide range of cruelty, including, notes Alvarenga, “workers slicing off the tails, cutting holes in the ears and grinding the teeth of piglets without any pain relief.”

Animal rights advocates are quick to point out that pigs—as well as other animals raised for human consumption—are intelligent, have rich emotional lives and possess unique, individual personalities. For some, these are reasons to not eat them. Ellen Page, one of many celebrity vegans who have used their fame to speak out on behalf of animals raised for food, said, “The inhumane factory farming process regards animals and the natural world merely as commodities to be exploited for profit.”

“The animals who are raised to be food for humans are so much more than just burgers and bacon,” said Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and co-author of The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age.

“Pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys and other non-human animals whose flesh is destined to wind up in our mouths were once sentient beings with rich emotional lives,” said Bekoff, who is also the co-founder, with Jane Goodall, of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “But because consumers rarely interact with them while they are still alive, they don’t see that these animals feel such a wide range of emotions, ranging from joy to sadness to grief, just like we all do.”

Non-human animals aren’t the only victims of the factory farm system. Slaughterhouse workers must witness the nightmarish conditions that the animals must endure. Some workers must do the actual killing, day in and day out.

“The psychological toll this takes on a person cannot be underestimated,” writes Ashitha Nagesh. “Slaughterhouse work has been linked to a variety of disorders, including PTSD and the lesser-known PITS (perpetration-induced traumatic stress). It has also been connected to an increase in crime rates, including higher incidents of domestic abuse.”

“To help move society to a more ethical food system, we as consumers must think less about ‘what’ is on our plate and more about ‘who’ is on our plate,” said Bekoff.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition urging JBS to ban gestation crates and painful mutilations.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The post Exposed: Animal Abuse at US Supplier to World’s Largest Meat Company appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Brett Kavanaugh is a Threat to Racial Justice and Voting Rights

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 13:35

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s record on racial issues and his answers to questions posed by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week raise red flags about how he would rule on voting rights if confirmed to the Supreme Court.

During his confirmation hearing to become a Supreme Court justice, Kavanaugh bragged about hiring people of color as law clerks and decried the use of the “n” word. But this proved mere window dressing as his answers to the senators’ questions brought his racist views into sharp focus.

When Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) asked him whether he agreed with Donald Trump that there was blame on both sides during the Charlottesville Nazi rally, Kavanaugh refused to say “no.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) queried Kavanaugh about an amicus brief he co-authored with Robert Bork in a 1999 case in which they argued that it was unconstitutional to prevent people who weren’t Native Hawaiians from voting for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Hirono quoted an email in which Kavanaugh wrote, “I think the testimony needs to make clear that any program targeting Native Hawaiians as a group is subject to strict scrutiny and of questionable validity under the Constitution.”

That email was one of tens of thousands of documents the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee had marked “committee confidential” in an unprecedented attempt to hide them from the public. By releasing that email, Hirono risked censure, discipline or removal from the Senate.

Hirono, who said Kavanaugh’s views on Native Hawaiians are “factually wrong” and incredibly offensive, told the nominee:

I think you have a problem here. Your view is that Hawaiians don’t deserve protections as Indigenous people under the Constitution and your argument raises a serious question on how you would vote on the constitutionality of programs benefiting Alaska natives. I think that my colleagues from Alaska should be deeply troubled by your views.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Kavanaugh called the program “Hawaii’s naked racial spoils system.” Harris asked Kavanaugh whether he knew that “racial spoils system” is commonly used by white supremacists. Kavanaugh said he didn’t.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) confronted Kavanaugh with another racist expression he had used, this time while working in the George W. Bush administration. Booker queried the nominee about his characterization of an affirmative action program as “a naked racial set-aside.” Kavanaugh had used the offensive phrase in an email criticizing an affirmative action program under consideration by the Supreme Court. Like Hirono, Booker risked censure, discipline or removal by releasing this email, which had been marked “committee confidential.”

The Voting Rights Act in Jeopardy

Kavanaugh has only decided one voting rights case. In 2012, he wrote the opinion for a three-judge panel in South Carolina v. United States, which upheld a voter ID law. The Obama Department of Justice had opposed the law, finding it violated the Voting Rights Act because it could disenfranchise tens of thousands of non-white voters who were less likely than whites to have identification.

The Justice Department presented evidence demonstrating that the South Carolina law disproportionately and materially burdened non-white voters. Expert testimony showed that Black voters were more than twice as likely as white voters not to have the required identification.

But Kavanaugh assigned more weight to elected officials. He bought into the argument that the law would prevent voter fraud, even though the state introduced no evidence to support that claim.

The landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibits any voting practice or procedure that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

A person who claims that a county, municipality or state law violates the Voting Rights Act need not prove the law was enacted with racist intent. He or she need only prove the law would have the effect of making it more difficult for a person of color to vote.

NAACP President Cornell Brooks testified at Jeff Sessions’s attorney general confirmation hearing that the Voting Rights Act “is regarded as the crown jewel of civil rights.”

In the 2013 case of Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5, which established a formula for preclearance of jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination.

“We’ve seen nothing less than a Machiavellian frenzy of voter disenfranchisement from one end of the country to the other” since Shelby was decided, Brooks said.

Moreover, in the South Carolina voter ID case, Kavanaugh declined to join a separate concurrence signed by the other two judges on the panel, reaffirming the “vital function that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has played here.”

Voter fraud is used as a pretext to suppress voting rights. A 2014 study reported by The Washington Post found only 31 incidents of voter fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014.

“From Ohio to Wisconsin to Georgia, the vestiges of Jim Crow have resurfaced under a new cloak, unchecked and unabated,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a statement to the senators at Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing

Indeed, since 2010, 23 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws, according to the Brennan Center.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) cited two examples — North Carolina and Texas — while questioning Kavanaugh.

In 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in NAACP v. North Carolina struck down North Carolina’s 2013 voting law that established a photo ID requirement and eliminated same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and preregistration of high school students. After requesting data on voting patterns of different races, North Carolina legislators had written a law that would “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision,” the court said.

And in Veasey v. Perry, a US District Court held that Texas’s voter ID law created an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, had an impermissibly discriminatory effect on Latinos and African Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. The court also found the provision in question constituted an unconstitutional poll tax.

After reciting Texas’s dismal history of denying access to the polls, the court noted, “This history describes not only a penchant for discrimination in Texas with respect to voting, but it exhibits a recalcitrance that has persisted over generations despite the repeated intervention of the federal government and its courts on behalf of minority citizens.”

Early last year, Attorney General Sessions reversed the Obama Justice Department’s policy of challenging voter ID laws. Now the Justice Department intervenes in favor of states that enact measures to restrict equal ballot access.

In light of the proliferation of laws that pose obstacles to voting, the Supreme Court will likely be faced with a challenge to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

Conservative organizations continue to cry “voter fraud” as an excuse to enact laws that suppress voting rights for people of color. Kavanaugh’s entry onto the Court will make five solidly right-wing justices. The fate of the Voting Rights Act hangs in the balance.

The post Brett Kavanaugh is a Threat to Racial Justice and Voting Rights appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Documents Reveal Kavanaugh Thinks Abortion Decision Is Not “Settled Law”

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 15:43

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing took a series of dramatic turns Thursday, as Democratic senators began releasing confidential documents from Kavanaugh’s work at the George W. Bush White House. The New York Times also broke a major story Thursday morning revealing that Kavanaugh wrote as a White House attorney in 2003 that he did not deem the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision to be “settled law of the land.” He wrote, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.” These revelations come as the Trump administration withholds more than 100,000 pages of Kavanaugh’s records on the basis of presidential privilege. We speak with Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing took a dramatic turn Thursday when Democratic senators began releasing confidential documents from Kavanaugh’s work at the George W. Bush White House. The move came in response to the Trump administration withholding more than 100,000 pages of Kavanaugh’s records on the basis of presidential privilege. The Democrats’ move came shortly after The New York Times broke a major story Thursday morning revealing Kavanaugh, as a White House attorney, wrote in 2003 he did not deem the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision to be settled law of the land. Kavanaugh wrote “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” he said. California Senator Dianne Feinstein questioning Kavanaugh Thursday about the emailing.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: We have an email that was previously marked confidential but is now public and shows that you asked about making edits to an op-ed that read the following, and I quote: “First of all, it is widely understood, accepted by legal scholars across the board, that Roe v. Wade and it progeny are the settled law of the land.” You responded by saying, and I quote, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.” This has been viewed as you saying you don’t think Roe is settled.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Brett Kavanaugh dismissed the significance of his 2003 email.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: The broader point was simply that I think it was overstating something about legal scholars. I am always concerned with accuracy, and I thought that was not quite accurate description of legal — all legal scholars, because it referred to all.

AMY GOODMAN: During Thursday’s hearing, Judge Kavanaugh also alarmed many reproductive rights activists by describing contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs.” He made the comment in a question about his 2015 dissent in the Priests for Life versus HHS case.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: That was a group that was being forced to provide a certain kind of health coverage over their religious objection to their employees, and under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the question was first, was this a substantial burden on the religious exercise? And it seemed to me quite clearly it was. It was a technical matter of filling out a form in that case, but they said filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of the abortion-inducing drugs that they were — as a religious matter, objected to.

AMY GOODMAN: In another dramatic moment from Thursday’s hearing, Democratic Senator Cory Booker released to the public a document that was previously considered committee confidential. The document described Kavanaugh’s views as a White House aide under George W. Bush on the use of racial profiling in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. This is an exchange between Booker, Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, and Texas Senator John Cornyn.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: I knowingly violated the rules that were put forth, and I’m told that the committee confidential rules have knowing consequences. And so sir, I come from a long line, as all of us do as Americans, and understand what that kind of civil disobedience is, and I understand the consequences. So I am right now, before your process is finished, I am going to release the email about racial profiling. And I understand that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate. And if Senator Cornyn believes that I have violated Senate rules, I openly invite and accept the consequences of my team releasing that email right now. And I am releasing it to expose that, number one, the emails that are being withheld from the public have nothing to do with national security.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: Can I ask you how long you’re going to say the same thing three or four times?

SEN. CORY BOOKER: No, sir, I’m saying right now that I am releasing committee confidential documents.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: No senator deserves to sit on this committee or serve in the Senate, in my view, if they decide to be a law unto themselves and willingly flout the rules of the Senate and the determination of confidentiality and classification. That is irresponsible and conduct unbecoming a senator.

AMY GOODMAN: In the document mentioned by Senator Booker, Judge Kavanaugh said that although he favored race-neutral policies in policing, there was an “interim question of what to do before a truly effective and comprehensive race-neutral system is developed and implemented.”

Well, for more, we are joined by Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Last week, the organization released a damning report on Kavanaugh’s record on cases concerning civil rights, criminal justice, voting rights, fair housing, education, reproductive rights, environmental justice and access to justice overall, and also issued a statement opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Well, Kristen, we spoke to you right before the hearings began. Today is supposedly the last day of these hearings. Talk about the significance of what happened yesterday with Senator Booker saying he was willing to risk expulsion from the Senate to release these documents. Kristen, I don’t know if you heard that question. It seems that our guest has just lost the audio sound as she sits in Washington. But Kristen Clarke, let me go to — I think you are there now. I was asking the significance of Senator Booker of New Jersey saying he would risk expulsion to release these documents that were being held back.

KRISTEN CLARKE: This is by no small stretch one of the most covert and nontransparent Supreme Court hearings that we have seen in modern time. It is really important to reflect back on what happened in prior nominations with respect to the nominations of Justice Kagan, Sotomayor, Alito, Roberts. The standard has always been 100 percent transparency.

On both sides of the aisle, there has been great insistence on seeing the records and documents that really explain who those nominees are before the Senate would move forward, and it is astounding to see what is happening now with respect to Brett Kavanaugh.

The rules of the game have changed, and the Senate is essentially being forced to proceed, despite the fact that more than 90 percent of Mr. Kavanaugh’s records have not been disclosed. And to add insult on top of injury, of the small number of documents that are available, we see both this administration, with the acquiescence of Chairman Grassley, slapping privilege claims and confidentiality labels onto documents that make it even more difficult for the senators to do their job.

I am really pleased that Senators Booker and Hirono and others pushed back yesterday. It is virtually impossible to question a nominee about their views when you have a committee confidential label slapped onto a document that prevents you from airing the document with the public, from giving it to the nominee so the nominee can see what you are questioning him on.

Yesterday I thought was a transformative moment in these hearings, because this is not business as usual. We have not seen a process where the administration has deeply entangled itself in how the Senate Judiciary Committee goes about its gravely important task of vetting this nominee, and we are seeing the sweeping use of executive privilege, and on top of that, this committee confidential claim labeled on documents that are not controversial at all, really because Chairman Grassley and his colleagues want to railroad Mr. Kavanaugh onto the court. They want to avoid a discussion about his real views on issues like racial profiling and Roe v. Wade and not complicate his path to the court. At the end of the day —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the significance of what the document showed from 2003 — Kavanaugh’s own email as a White House counsel, talking about Roe v. Wade not being settled law and also in the hearing calling contraceptives “abortion-inducing drugs.”

KRISTEN CLARKE: These documents are game changers, but we have to remember that more than 90 percent of Mr. Kavanaugh’s record has been kept in the dark. Had we had these documents from Tuesday — and I have been in that hearing room every single day — I think the tenor of these hearings would have been very different. I think senators on both sides of the aisle would have been in a position to really probe and figure out whether Mr. Kavanaugh is prepared to adhere to and uphold the Supreme Court’s precedent when it comes to Roe v. Wade.

That email really compounds some of the other evidence that has come forth. The Garza case, for example, in which Mr. Kavanaugh seemed to go to great lengths to deny an undocumented teen access to an abortion. Another case where he allowed employers to invoke religious reasons as grounds to deny employees access to contraceptive care and reproductive access. When you put all of this evidence together, it really starts to paint a picture of who Mr. Kavanaugh is, a picture that we could complete if we had the other 90 percent of his record that the senators have been denied access to during this process.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Senator Kamala Harris of California questioning Kavanaugh on Wednesday about whether he discussed the Mueller investigation with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres law firm. Marc Kasowitz the personal attorney for Donald Trump.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Did you talk with anyone at Kasowitz Benson and Torres?

BRETT KAVANAUGH: You asked me that. I need to know who works there.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: I think you can answer the question without me giving you a list of all employees at that law firm.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: Well actually, I can’t.


BRETT KAVANAUGH: Because I don’t know who works there.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: So that’s the only way you would know who you spoke with? I want to understand your response to my question because it is a very direct one. Did you speak with anyone at that law firm about the Mueller investigation? It is a very direct question.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: Right. I would be surprised, but I don’t know anyone — I don’t know if the — I don’t know everyone who works at that law firm, so I just want to be careful. Because your question was and/or, so I want to be very literal.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: That’s fine. I will ask a more direct question if that’s helpful to you. Did you speak with anyone at that law firm about Bob Mueller’s investigation?

BRETT KAVANAUGH: I’m not remembering anything like that, but I want to know a roster of people and I want to know more.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: So you’re not denying that you spoke with —

BRETT KAVANAUGH: Well, I said I don’t remember anything like that.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Judge Kavanaugh Wednesday. Senator Harris on Thursday again asked Kavanaugh if he had discussed the Mueller investigation with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres law firm.

[no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: Kristen Clarke, let me go to you on this. What is the significance here? What is the point that Senator Harris is making?

KRISTEN CLARKE: Look, we need justices on our nation’s highest court who will be truthful, of the highest integrity, justices where there is no question about their veracity and ability to always be forthcoming and honest. And I must say that it was painful listening to Senator Harris ask very clear questions about Kavanaugh and his contacts with lawyers from that firm. At every turn, he just seemed to be incredibly evasive.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another turn of Kavanaugh on Thursday.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Were you a party to a conversation that occurred regarding Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? And a simple yes or no would suffice.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: About his investigation. And are you referring to a specific person?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: I’m referring to a specific subject and the specific person I’m referring to is you.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: Who was the conversation with? You said you had information.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: That is not the subject of the question, sir. The subject of the question is you and whether you were part of a conversation regarding Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: The answer is no.


AMY GOODMAN: Kristen Clarke, very quickly, if you can explain why she is asking this question? This whole issue of — Kavanaugh was not on the Federalist Society list of judges to choose from for the Supreme Court as was Gorsuch, and Trump made very clear, “This is the only list I will use.” And this issue that came up that Kavanaugh was added after the Mueller investigation began, and was he speaking with President Trump’s personal lawyer? Explain.

KRISTEN CLARKE: It raises important questions. He did not show up on President Trump’s first or second shortlist, which the president claimed that he was airing to the public all of the people he was considering for this most important position.

And when we look at the trajectory of what he was doing during that time period, it is almost as if he were auditioning for the role. He is out giving speeches to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation and law schools, where he’s airing his views about Justice Rehnquist, who issued the dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade, and how much he deems him a hero. He is talking about executive power. It is almost as if he were auditioning for the president.

And I think the president selected him in part because he finds comfort in Kavanaugh’s current views and outlook on executive power and presidential privilege. And again, Senator Harris really I think was getting to his ability to be truthful, which is perhaps the most important characteristic in a Supreme Court justice.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. What is happening today? Different people will be testifying for and against him. A Parkland shooting survivor. Condoleezza Rice will be testifying for him. And do you think this is going to end today?

KRISTEN CLARKE: I think it will end today. Chairman Grassley has been moving at lightning speed to kind of move this forward as quickly as possible. We’ll hear from Cedric Richmond, who is the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, who will raise questions about Kavanaugh’s civil rights record. The Parkland survivor. We will hear from the attorney for the young undocumented teen who was almost denied access to an abortion because of Mr. Kavanaugh. And a number of witnesses who —

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Kristen Clarke. We’ve just lost her on the satellite, but that’s today what will be taking place at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

We will link to the report that her group released last week, a damning report on Kavanaugh’s record concerning civil rights, criminal justice, voting rights, fair housing, education, reproductive rights, environmental justice, as well as the statement they issued opposing judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, confirmation to the Supreme Court.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the Trump Administration has just said, issued a rule that they will hold children indefinitely, defying the Flores Agreement. Over 400 kids, a number of them under five years old, are still being detained by the US government, separated at the border. Stay with us.

The post Documents Reveal Kavanaugh Thinks Abortion Decision Is Not “Settled Law” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Economy Adds 201,000 Jobs in August, Unemployment Steady at 3.9 Percent

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 15:25

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the economy added 201,000 jobs in August; although downward revisions of 50,000 to the prior two months’ data brought the three-month average to 185,000. The unemployment rate remained at 3.9 percent, but the overall employment-to-population (EPOP) fell by 0.2 percentage points to 60.3 percent.

This 0.2 percentage point drop also showed up for prime-age workers (ages 25 to 54), although the EPOP for prime-age workers is still 0.9 percentage points above its year-ago level. For men, the year-over-year increase is 1.1 percentage points, while for women it is 0.8 percent. In both cases, EPOPs remain below prerecession peaks and well below the peaks hit in 2000.

Perhaps the most encouraging news in the report is evidence of a modest acceleration in wage growth. The average hourly wage increased by 2.9 percent over the last year. That compares to a 2.7 percent year-over-year rise in July, but it is too early to assume a clear trend. The year-over-year increase was 2.8 percent in July of 2016. The rate of increase, taking the average of the last three months compared with the prior three months, is slightly more rapid at 3.06 percent.

Interestingly, the pay gains are not especially strong in areas where employers have been complaining about labor shortages. The average hourly wage in construction was up 3.3 percent over the last year, but the gain was 3.5 percent back in September of 2016. Wages in manufacturing have risen by just 1.8 percent over the last year.

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Categories: News

New Documents Appear to Show Kavanaugh Lied Under Oath Multiple Times

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 15:14

“How much perjury is too much perjury from a Supreme Court nominee?”

That was how one commentator responded to a flurry of new documents and emails released on Thursday by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that appear to show President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh lied under oath during hearings for his nomination to the US Court of Appeals in 2004 and 2006.

In 2004 — after a Senate sergeant-at-arms report found that Republican staffer Manuel Miranda had stolen confidential communications and documents from Democratic senators — Kavanaugh told the Senate that he never received “documents that appeared…to have been drafted or prepared by Democratic staff members.”

But new emails made public by Leahy on Thursday appear to show that Kavanaugh “got 8 pages of material taken verbatim from [the Vermont senator’s] files, obviously written by Dem staff, labeled ‘not [for] distribution.” The stolen material detailed Democrats’ efforts to oppose President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

BREAKING: Kavanaugh testified he never received any docs that even “appeared to … have been drafted or prepared by Democratic staff.” Well, he got 8 pages of material taken VERBATIM from my files, obviously written by Dem staff, LABELED “not [for] distribution”.

— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) September 6, 2018

During Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, Leahy confronted Kavanaugh over the apparent contradiction between these emails and the judge’s 2004 testimony, but Leahy said he was not permitted to make the emails public because they were deemed “committee confidential.”

The documents were released on Thursday, however, and they show that Kavanaugh received an email that detailed information gathered by a “mole for us on the left” — an indication that the information was acquired improperly.

“Kavanaugh committed perjury, [Iowa Sen. Chuck] Grassley knows that he committed perjury, and tried to keep the proof of Kavanaugh’s commission of perjury confidential,” noted Dante Atkins, communications director for Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.). “This is horrid and unconscionable.”

“It is simply not ‘normal’ to get real-time insider intelligence from a Democratic ‘mole’ and marked ‘spying.’ Red flags abound,” Leahy wrote. “And with 102,000 documents withheld by the Trump White House, mostly about judicial nominees, we can bet there’s more.”

“Judge Kavanaugh answered under oath more than 100 questions on this hacking in 2004 and 2006,” Leahy added. “His repeated denials that he didn’t receive any stolen info and didn’t suspect anything ‘untoward’ is SIMPLY NOT CREDIBLE.”

Here are more emails. It is simply not ‘normal’ to get real-time insider intelligence from a Democratic “mole” and marked “spying.” Red flags abound. And with 102,000 documents withheld by the Trump WH, mostly about judicial noms, we can bet there’s more.

— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) September 6, 2018

Just minutes before Leahy posted the batch of emails related to stolen Democratic materials, Sen. Feinstein pointed to Kavanaugh’s claim under oath in 2004 that he “was not involved in handling” the nomination of anti-Roe v. Wade Appeals Court Judge Bill Pryor in 2003 and argued that new emails prove that assertion was false.

“Newly released emails show that’s not true,” Feinstein tweeted on Thursday. “Asked about how Pryor’s interview went, he replied, ‘call me.'”

BREAKING: Brett Kavanaugh was asked in 2004 about whether he was involved in the nomination of Bill Pryor. He said “I was not involved in handling his nomination”

Newly released emails show that’s not true. Asked about how Pryor’s interview went, he replied “CALL ME.”

— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) September 6, 2018

On the left, sworn testimony in which Brett Kavanaugh tells Ted Kennedy he was “not involved in handling” Bill Pryor’s nomination.

On the right, Brett Kavanaugh is invited to an “emergency umbrella meeting” at a private law firm “to discuss nominee Bill Pryor’s hearing.”

— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) September 6, 2018

“Simply put, Kavanaugh committed perjury,” political analyst Matt McDermott wrote in response to Feinstein’s tweet.

Ian Millhiser, justice editor at ThinkProgress, added that given all of the possible cases of perjury that have been uncovered by Senate Democrats, “Maybe there’s a reason Senate Republicans tried to keep Kavanaugh’s emails secret?”

Judd Legum, author of the Popular Information newsletter, argued that the stolen Democratic materials and the Pryor nomination are just two of four topics “where Kavanaugh appeared to commit perjury.”

Topics where Kavanaugh appeared to commit perjury

1. Whether he knew he received stolen emails

2. When he found out about warrantless wiretapping

3. Whether he was involved in the Pryor nomination

4. Whether he opined on constitutionality of criminally investigating the prez

— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) September 6, 2018

The post New Documents Appear to Show Kavanaugh Lied Under Oath Multiple Times appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Equality and Territory: The Common Struggle of Indigenous Women in the Andes

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 15:10

“At the age of 18 I was the first female leader in my organisation, my grandfather who was a male chauvinist demanded that I be beaten because I was sitting among men,” said Teresita Antazú, an indigenous leader of the Yanesha people in Peru’s Amazon region.

Now, almost 57 and after a lifetime dedicated to breaking down barriers, she believes that over the past three decades, indigenous women in her country and throughout the Andean region have achieved visibility, formal recognition of their rights and openness of institutions to their demands.

But they are still victims of violence compounded by the fact that they are both indigenous and women. They also face discrimination and growing threats to their territories, as Antazù – the first female “cornesha” (highest authority) of the Federation of Yanesha Native Communities – told IPS from her home town of Constitución, in the jungle in central Peru.

For Rosa Montalvo, an Ecuadorian documentary filmmaker who has worked for 25 years with indigenous women in the Andean region, the current struggle for territory and equality is a common thread providing continuity with the exploits of Bartolina Sisa, an Aymara resistance leader executed on Sept. 5, 1782 for rebelling against the Spanish conquistadors.

It was in homage to Sisa that the Second Conference of Latin American Organisations and Movements, held in Bolivia in 1983, declared Sept. 5 the International Day of Indigenous Women.

“Like Bartolina Sisa, indigenous women today are struggling to keep their cultures alive in their communities, to continue to exist as peoples and to have the opportunities they deserve, preserving the continuity of the new generations, especially now that there are stronger attacks on their territories,” Montalvo told IPS from Quito.

She was referring, for example, to the case of Colombia, where the National Indigenous Organisation, which groups 102 native peoples, reported that between November 2016 and July 2018, 65 activists were killed by illegal armed groups. This was after a peace deal signed by the government and left-wing guerrillas put an end to half a century of armed conflict.

Teresita Antazú, a “cornesha” or leader of the Yanesha people, one of the 55 Indigenous peoples officially recognised in Peru, who from a young age fought against the patriarchal power and the inequalities faced by Indigenous women, takes part in a demonstration in defense of Native peoples of the Amazon rainforest.Mariela Jara / IPS

“Indigenous communities have been left more vulnerable in a serious scenario of territorial disputes, with women being severely affected because they remain in their territories to sustain life and are exposed to violence,” explained Montalvo, who is also a member of the non-governmental International Land Coalition.

Indigenous territories are also under threat, with impacts on the lives of native peoples and women, in countries like Ecuador and Bolivia despite their progressive constitutions, said Montalvo.

“Both countries still have an agro-export economic model, which poses a threat to indigenous territories,” said the Ecuadorian documentary-maker.

Territory is life for indigenous peoples and women, it is their source of livelihood, and the basis for their culture and worldview. If their territory is encroached upon, their very existence is jeopardised.

The Andean States have signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labour Organisation Convention 169, which guarantee prior, informed consultation in order to carry out investment projects in the territories of indigenous communities.

However, these commitments are not enforced and extractive activities are impacting on the livelihoods, cultures and worldviews of native peoples, say experts and indigenous leaders.

“That is why we speak of several types of violence, as violence that occurs against our bodies and in our territories,” Tarcila Rivera, a Peruvian member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told IPS.

Rivera, vice president of the Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ), which she founded 34 years ago, said that nearly half of the indigenous women in Latin America live in territories where concessions for mega-projects and extractive activities have been awarded by the governments.

These are areas which, at the same time, are plagued by poverty and neglect.

“We are fighting so that in rural areas the rape of a girl is not settled in exchange for money or goods, and to prevent the dispossession of our lands and the pollution of our rivers and crops,” she said in Lima.

Rivera is a world-renowned indigenous activist who follows the teachings of her mother in her native Ayacucho, the central region of the Peruvian Andes struck especially hard by the 1980-2000 armed conflict.

“My mother died illiterate, but she had great wisdom in dealing with problems and coming up with solutions,” she said.

Ecuadorian Rosa Montalvo, who has worked for more than 25 years with Indigenous women, contributing to the development of processes of women’s empowerment and leadership, takes part in a meeting on the subject in Lima.Mariela Jara / IPS

“If you want a new skirt or something special to eat, she would tell me, you have to have your own money; you have the capacity and spiritual strength and you can get ahead,” she said, recalling her mother’s advice, which taught her to be independent and strong.

In more than 30 years of national and international activism for the rights of indigenous women, she notes as important achievements that indigenous women have organised, are speaking with their own voice and are articulating from the local to the global level.

Rivera also promotes the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas, and identifies as an international priority the eradication of racism against indigenous women, which she considers one of the structural forms of violence they suffer.

“Racism hurts people’s self-esteem, it is discrimination against your ethnic identity, it makes you feel less of a person because you’re a woman, because you do not speak Spanish, because you’re poor, because you live in the bush,” she said.

As a result, “you don’t have the tools to defend yourself against either the man who beats you in your home or the policeman who abuses you unjustly for claiming your rights, and we have to eradicate that in our countries,” said the indigenous leader.

In the Andean region, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Bolivia has the highest percentage of indigenous people (62 percent of the population), followed by Peru (24 percent), Chile (11 percent), Ecuador (seven percent), Colombia (3.0 per cent) and Venezuela (2.7 per cent).

It is also necessary to break down the data by gender and establish different variables to assess violence, health, employment, education and housing, both Atanzú and Rivera pointed out.

“If governments do not know how indigenous women live and the problems we face every day, they will not be able to make public policies that respond to our needs,” Antazú said.

When asked about their outlook over the next 10 years, they see a more equitable presence for indigenous women in decision-making spaces at the local, regional and national levels, and they believe indigenous girls and young women will increasingly receive a quality education that empowers them.

“And without people shooting looks at us that shout: ‘what are you doing here?’” Rivera remarked.

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Categories: News

Rats Ahoy

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 15:09

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Categories: News